Several years ago, UC San Diego (UCSD) Health Sciences began investigating how we could best help the at-risk communities we serve through various partnerships. Because of what we learned from the community, described in my first blog post on community empowerment, we redesigned and augmented the delivery of our services.

We established a program called the HERE Initiative — Health + Education + Research = Empowerment — a nod to the importance of a multifaceted approach, as well as the unique capabilities of an academic medical center in facilitating that.

We also wanted to drive home the fact that we are, in fact, “here” for and with them.


What UCSD Health Sciences has been doing through the HERE Initiative over the past three years:

*Public Health: Preventive screenings at 65 health fairs each year in those underserved neighborhoods, serving more than 7,000 people annually. We screen for diabetes, high cholesterol, skin cancer and much more for a population that otherwise would have little if any access to preventive screenings—a dramatic change, especially for those whose lives have been saved as a result.

The woman from South Bay with no insurance whose breast cancer was detected early. The man from southeast San Diego whose blood pressure was sky high, was at high risk for a stroke and didn’t know it, but who now has it under control.

*Coordinated Care: We are cooperating with 10 of the largest clinic systems in San Diego to streamline access to world-class specialists at UCSD Health System.

*Youth Training: We are sponsoring three high school health academies that help students not only graduate from high school, but also from college and training programs, and getting them into the health care workforce. In fact, more than 1,200 students a year like Joselin are on a path to realizing their dreams through these health academies.

*Classroom Support: We provide their teachers with financial and teaching support.  Health leaders and experts from UC San Diego Health Sciences are guest lecturing in their classroom.

*Experiential Learning: We offer field trips to our facilities where they use our equipment and meet our key staff members and we give them opportunities to intern at cutting-edge health care organizations that are serving their communities.

The goal is to expose them to a variety of health jobs so they can make an educated decision about which career to pursue. This includes health care facility planners, nutritionists, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, radiology technicians, health educators, public health professionals, EMTs and paramedics, physical therapists, accountants, business managers, and many more.


Partnering for Success

Key to the success of the HERE Initiative is the willingness of community partners to work with us.  In fact, we have over 50 community partners actively engaged in this the HERE Initiative.

For instance, we work closely with American Medical Response (AMR), the American Heart Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), San Diego Unified School District, Sweetwater Union High School District and others to create those internships.

Through this program our students are developing a range of skills from answering phones at the hospital, to teaching CPR to elementary school children, to helping nurses and paramedics and doctors save lives. They emerge with new skills and a new perspective on the health care world.  And the results speak for themselves.

Here’s an amazing statistic: 100% of the HERE Initiative students who did internships through our program are going to college this year. Every single one of them.

As a matter of fact, Joselin, who just graduated from the HERE Initiative at San Ysidro High School, is entering nursing school next month and plans to return to her community as a registered nurse.

We do more than 65 immersive facility tours each year. We are bringing students from other local schools and members of community groups to our facilities to meet our staff, use our equipment, and see something they’ve never seen before—and it excites them!

We are doing over 100 health education talks in the community each year, for free, in at-risk communities and in multiple languages. We have more than 165 health topics to choose from.  These talks can also now be scheduled online through our website. More than 6,500 people benefitted from such talks last year alone.

We are partnering with colleges and agencies to align training standards with job standards for both health care and biotech careers to ensure that the newly trained are employable when they come out of school.

We are working with dozens of community, non-profit, and other organizations to support each other’s public and private grant requests. The money from these grants helps our partner organizations provide a range of community services and research efforts.

We are informing at-risk populations about opportunities to participate in clinical trials and helping them contribute to reducing health disparities in their communities through research at our Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI).

We also created a Center for the Investigation of Health and Educational Disparities (CIHED) at UCSD. The mission of CIHED is to promote and support research for a new understanding of the cultural, environmental, physical, behavioral, and biological causes that contribute to health and education disparities in America.

These CIHED investigations are likely to result in practical interventions that will allow us to reduce the health and educational gaps between ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the United States, in particular within the San Diego area and the surrounding community.


Looking Forward

In addition to positive impacts in our local community, our effort has the potential to help others achieve similar results. The HERE Initiative has received regional and national recognition for its innovative approach and early demonstrated outcomes. It is now viewed as a best practice.

Through the HERE Initiative, UCSD Health Sciences has charted a new course for relationships with the communities we serve.  We are connecting those segments of pipe that have never been connected before and the results are amazing.

By doing so, we are empowering individuals and communities — and the future looks very bright.