Local High Schoolers Present Community Health Projects at Columbia

The first high school students to participate in a new community health education program at CUIMC celebrated their accomplishments at a graduation event on April 26 that also highlighted the health liaison activities they conducted throughout the program.

The program, Adolescents Caring for Community by Promoting Literacy on Insurance, Stroke, Health Education, Emergencies, and Dementia, or ACComPLISHED, was developed and overseen by Paul Lewis, a medical student at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons who took a year off from his studies to launch the program. James Noble, MD, associate professor of neurology at VP&S, and Olajide Williams, MD, professor of neurology and vice dean of community health at VP&S, served as Lewis’ mentors.

Participants in the ACComPLISHED program shared their community health liaison activities at a graduation ceremony for the program on April 26.

The ACComPLISHED program was created to mentor New York City teens in 10th through 12th grades and provide them with a platform to practice community health education. Each week beginning in January, the students learned about healthy habits and disease prevention and practiced first aid skills, including CPR and naloxone administration for opioid overdose.

Each week beginning in January, high school participants in the ACComPLISHED program learned about healthy habits and disease prevention and practiced first aid skills.

Each student also acted as a health liaison to present information they learned in ACComPLISHED each week to at least five members of their community. For their capstone project, students developed a community intervention to educate others in the community about a health issue or provided a health intervention, such as holding mindfulness sessions or stocking bathrooms with menstrual hygiene products. Collectively, they reported impacting more than 2,100 people with their projects.

The program has already had tangible benefits for the community, including a life saved from opioid overdose. One student created a community program to spread knowledge about naloxone, and an audience member later used that information to prevent an overdose death.

“That's super exciting to see, because we taught a student, they went into the community, they taught their community, and then that person was able to use it in a real-world setting,” Lewis says.

The high school participants are mentored by Columbia students from VP&S, Mailman School of Public Health, School of Nursing, College of Dental Medicine, School of Social Work, Columbia College, and the occupational and physical therapy programs at VP&S.

The program was a collaborative effort among several schools at Columbia. Undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students mentored the high school participants, and faculty from CUIMC schools participated in educational programming.

Faculty and students attended the graduation event, including Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, who delivered remarks.

Noble and Williams previously worked to educate elementary school students about the risk factors for stroke and how to recognize a stroke through the NIH-funded Hip Hop Stroke program. To Lewis, who has extensive experience working with and mentoring teenagers, expanding efforts to high school students seemed a natural fit.

“This program is a great way for the students to become advocates for the community and educate others, including their family members, about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise,” says Lewis. “We find that students are well-positioned to reach family and community members who have less trust in health systems. Their encouragement can nudge family members to see a health care provider and make healthy changes in their lives.”

From left: James Noble, Linda P. Fried, Paul Lewis, and Olajide Williams at the ACComPLISHED graduation event on April 26.

Noble hopes that the program may also act as a pipeline, inspiring participants to pursue careers in medicine, public health, or health education.

“This program was an opportunity for us to not only inspire a new generation to think about health for themselves and for their families, but maybe even consider it a career opportunity,” Noble says.

ACComPLISHED builds on the foundation laid by community health worker programs established at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, including InTOuCH, which trains adults to be community health workers versed in stroke and cardiovascular disease. InTOuCH has around 250 graduates who have become health advocates in their communities, running health fairs, tabling at events, and even getting community members signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The leaders of ACComPLISHED are recruiting for the program's second cohort, which will start in the summer. Going forward, the program will be held during the summer and during the academic year.