New PBC initiative aimed at improving access to health care, inspiring students toward careers in science, medicine

New PBC initiative aimed at improving access to health care, inspiring students toward careers in science, medicine

A new partnership on the Phoenix Bioscience Core leverages Arizona State University’s charter and design aspirations, and connects it with the University of Arizona’s public health programs, providing more touch points for area high school students to explore their interest in health, community and STEM-related fields within each of the three universities, while simultaneously providing increased access to health care in our community.

The PBC Healthy Futures Initiative focuses on linking the strengths of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona and the rest of the Phoenix Bioscience Core together to co-create community outreach programs within the greater Phoenix community. These efforts help serve Phoenix through educational programs at elementary and high schools around Phoenix and public-facing programs that benefit the wider community, while also developing working relationships between the various university colleges located on the PBC creating a stronger network and culture of collaboration.

“A foundational purpose of the Phoenix Bioscience Core is to develop connection,” said David Krietor, executive director of the PBC. “These connections within the universities, between the researchers across our institutions and with the communities we serve are vital to the success of the PBC. It’s important for our research institutions to understand how they can work together and collaborate, but it’s also critically important that the community understand these facilities are here to serve the betterment of our neighborhoods and the state as a whole.”

The newest collaboration is a partnership developed between Christina Ngo, senior director of social embeddedness at Arizona State University, the Phoenix Bioscience Core, and the University of Arizona’s Mobile Health Unit (MHU), which is part of the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health – Community Outreach and Engagement Programs. The Mobile Health Unit delivers preventive health screening services to underserved communities around Maricopa County and the state. Led by Alma Ramirez, the MHU program consists of a small group of staff supplemented by volunteers. Essentially a mobile clinic, the group travels around Maricopa County providing free health screenings, vaccinations, and other necessary services to underserved communities. 

“I’m so proud of Alma Ramirez and the whole Mobile Health Unit team, they not only deliver health services to thousands of communities that don’t have easy access, they also reach out to high school students who are the next generation of public health leaders,” said Cecila Rosales, Associate Dean in the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “This program and this team are working to build a better health future for all our diverse communities in Arizona.”

Healthy Futures brings around 25 high school students to the PBC where they train with the MHU staff and take a tour of the PBC, including facilities for all three universities, to gain a deeper understanding around college admission and career pathways in health or science fields.

During the hands-on training, students learned how to take a patient’s blood pressure, measure their body mass index and perform a diabetes screening by taking a glucose test. The MHU team will then make a visit to the high school, where the students who were trained act as MHU volunteers, serving their friends, family, teachers and community members. This experience gives the students a better understanding of what it means to be a health care worker and the impact it has on their neighborhood, while also opening potential pathways for the students to eventually attend one of Arizona’s three public universities.

The first high school that participated in this program was Trevor G. Browne High School. Twenty-five students and their chaperones visited on Oct 24. The Mobile Health Unit then paid a visit to Trevor Browne High School’s west Phoenix campus on Nov. 2, where it provided COVID-19 vaccines, flu shots and general health screenings for roughly 50 members of the surrounding community.

“Working with these high school students is incredibly exciting because I get to connect them with the resources I wish I had at their age,” said Alma Ramirez, health education and promotion profession in UArizona College of Public Health and supervisor on the mobile health unit. “They are resilient, resourceful, and enthusiastic, and it is always rewarding to create opportunities for this next generation of public health professionals. I’m proud to be a community caregiver and contribute to the health of our community.”

Through this partnership, the PBC plans to host Maryvale High School in February and Phoenix Union’s Bioscience High School, which is located on the PBC, in the spring. The mobile health unit will then travel to Maryvale High School and Emerson Elementary School as part of Why Health Days at each location, meant to be a celebration of health, wellness and other programs housed on the Phoenix Bioscience Core.

“The PBC is the only place where a high school student or community member can visit all three of Arizona’s universities at once, so we have this unique opportunity to open our doors and work with our school districts, community organizations and other groups to demonstrate the tremendous work happening here on the Phoenix Bioscience Core,” said PBC Executive Director David Krietor. “Hopefully after these students participate in these programs, they’ll have a new sense of what they want to do in their college and professional careers, and more resources on how to accomplish those goals.”

This unique program began following the Maryvale Youth Summit in March 2022, where high school students met with university faculty, staff and partners to work through design challenges on how to improve their communities. One of those design challenges focused on improving access to preventive health care. Some of the primary issues related to care students identified in their community related to availability, transportation and language barriers between providers and patients. 

The Phoenix Bioscience Core sits at the center of the universities’ health care programs and, following several meetings with staff from ASU, the PBC and UArizona, the collaboration began to take shape.  In addition to bringing the mobile health unit out to the community, the program also offers an opportunity to inspire new students about degrees in medicine and science.  

“Social embeddedness is how ASU collaborates with community partners in mutually beneficial ways. It’s critical to the university’s mission,” said Christina Ngo, senior director of social embeddedness at ASU. “We see this as a win-win for everyone involved in that we’re giving these students an opportunity to experience what a career in community health could look like while also providing free health care to our community.”