1. Iles-Shih, Matthew MA
  2. Sve, Chuck LAC
  3. Solotaroff, Rachel MD
  4. Bruno, Richard BS
  5. Gregg, Jessica PhD, MD


Background: Academic centers and community programs are too often separated by institutional and cultural chasms. Such divides weaken our capacity to develop a diverse public health-oriented, community-based workforce. This article describes one bridge designed to connect the academy to local safety net systems and the lessons learned during its construction.


Program Description: "Health & Illness in Context" is an interdisciplinary program developed in 2008 by students at Oregon Health & Science University and staff at Portland's Central City Concern. Over a 7-week period, small cohorts of medical, nursing, and public health students gain an intimate, street-level understanding of the local safety net and the structural forces that shape it. Guided by program faculty, they traverse the maze of urban social services-following clients' pathways from homelessness and addiction to treatment, recovery, and social reintegration. In each 4-hour session, students: (1) apply key concepts from public health to challenging real-world contexts, (2) explore effective, innovative approaches to addressing complex health and social issues, and (3) directly engage members of underserved communities and the diverse professionals that serve them.


Outcomes: Although too early to formally assess its impact on career choice, Health & Illness in Context is already serving as an incubator for novel public health-oriented experiences, curricula, and activism that are further narrowing the community-university divide. Citing Health & Illness in Context as a primary inspiration, students have developed complementary elective courses, community-outreach activities, and long-term community collaborations. Meanwhile, program faculty members, now formally advise student initiatives, serve as mentors/preceptors, and have expanded their involvement at the university.