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TRUST program prepares future health care providers to serve the underserved

Upstate Medical University, working with Binghamton University and regional and local community organizations, has launched a new initiative to help prepare future health professionals to work in underserved communities.

The Rural and Underserved Service Track (TRUST) brings together trainees from various disciplines including social work, nursing, pharmacy, and medicine as interprofessional teams to engage in community-based training activities that serve the most vulnerable communities.

The two-year co-curricular program is focused on underserved communities, including urban and rural areas where there may be barriers to healthcare, such as a lack of providers, low health literacy or excessively long travel times.

The program is open to first-year students at Upstate’s Alan and Marlene Norton College of Medicine. It is run in cooperation with Binghamton University’s Decker College of Nursing and Health Science, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Services, Department of Social Work as well as local and regional community groups.

“This is a cooperative effort to enhance the training of students who are just beginning their journey through medical school to develop the skills and understanding that can help those who face challenges when it comes to getting top-notch, quality healthcare,” said Simone A. Seward, MPH, director of both Upstate’s Center for Civic Engagement and Health Equity Research and Programs. “When working with patients from vulnerable communities, it is critically important that health care providers not only understand the context of the communities, but also hear directly from the patients receiving health care services.”

TRUST was introduced at Upstate as a pilot program in 2020 with the help of five second-year medical students interested in urban and rural health. With rave reviews from the students and commitment from the Center for Civic Engagement, TRUST was formerly launched at Upstate in Fall 2021. The current class, the first full cohort to take part in the program, includes 13 first-year medical students, two third-year students, and a nursing student.

Called “TRUST Scholars,” the students have taken part in learning retreats where they engaged with a panel of experts and patients, took part in skills-building sessions and interprofessional case discussions. Each learning retreat allowed the TRUST scholars to focus on a different topic or vulnerable population. Topics have included geriatric care, the differences and similarities in working with urban and rural communities, refugee health and human services, as well as substance use. TRUST Scholars are also eligible to become AHEC scholars, which is a nationally recognized designation.

Anna Kanter is one of the original five students who piloted the program. Kanter, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and community health from Tufts University, and is taking part in TRUST as part of her MD/MPH dual degree work at Upstate. “It is important to me that I take care of not only the patient in front of me, but also my broader community. I grew up in Syracuse and I value being able to deepen my understanding of medicine and public health through hands-on experiences in our clinics, hospitals, and greater community,” she explained.

“We delve so deeply into the intricacies of medicine in our education, but it is also critical to consider the social, behavioral, and political realms that influence our patients’ health and how we might intervene in these domains,” Kanter said. “The TRUST program focuses on providing care for underserved populations including individuals experiencing homelessness, the LGBTQ+ population, and refugee populations among others.”

“The inter-professional nature of the program helps students see patient-centered care from different perspectives and how to work as a team towards a common goal,” said Seward. That fits with Kanter’s experience: “The students in the Binghamton cohort bring a wealth of knowledge from their fields including pharmacy, social work, and nursing. Many of the Binghamton participants have been working in their respective disciplines for many years and are able to share their firsthand knowledge and experiences with the program. Collaborating with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines will be a critical component of effectively taking care of our patients and TRUST has given me a great opportunity to practice this skill.”

Thirteen first-year Norton College of Medicine students are in the program:

Felix A. Appiah, Briar H. Bertoch, Vanessa E. Chicas, Velisha Guillaume; Samantha E. Hanley, Nathan Ihemeremadu, Margaret Malone, Megan Marte, Daniel Reynolds, Jaclyn Rittershaus, Halima Suleiman, Hansen Tai and Margarita Vazquez Almonte. In addition, third-year medical school student Kathryn M. Skolnick is participating, along with MD/MPH student Kanter and Upstate College of Nursing student Sandra Fox.

“Each year, we will select and welcome a new cohort of TRUST Scholars who are committed to and passionate about working with underserved communities,” said Seward. Recruitment for the next cohort of TRUST scholars will begin Fall 2022.

For more information about TRUST,  contact Simone Seward at SewardS@upstate.edu or visit the website at: https://www.binghamton.edu/pharmacy-and-pharmaceutical-sciences/curriculum/trust-track/index.html

Caption: Students in the TRUST program have been taking part in interprofessional retreats. Students are (front row, from left) Halima Suleiman, ‎Samantha Hanley, Velisha Guillaume and Margarita Vazquez Almonte; (second row) Margaret Malone, Vanessa Chicas, Megan Marte, Sandra Fox and Simone Seward, MPH, director of Upstate’s Center for Civic Engagement and Health Equity Research and Programs; (back row) Hansen Tai, Felix Appiah, Daniel Reynolds, Nathan Ihemeremadu, Briar H. Bertoch and Jaclyn Rittershaus.