December 10, 2020 by
This fall, Larner College of Medicine Class of 2023 medical students participated in the largest and most comprehensive public health project ever completed by a University of Vermont medical student class – an unprecedented activity during an unprecedented pandemic. On December 10 and 11, 17 Public Health Projects featuring findings from a statewide survey are being shared at a Virtual Poster Session and Community Celebration. (Link to the online event, available between noon and 5 p.m. each day.)
The statewide project, conducted in a unique collaboration between the College of Medicine and United Ways of Vermont, aimed to understand community health and social needs from the community’s perspective to best meet priorities for the coming year. Titled “Our Community’s Health: What’s Important to You?” the project launched in September, when an electronic survey was disseminated to partners of the United Way of Northwest Vermont, distributed to Vermont community members, and linked to websites including the Vermont Department of Health.
“COVID-19 has changed our lives,” said Jan Carney, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for public health and health policy and course director for the Public Health Projects. “Our goal, in partnership with the United Way of Northwest Vermont, was to learn about strengths and needs in Vermont communities since the pandemic began.”
In the survey, respondents were asked to say how much they disagree or agree with statements as a description of their community (the town or city where they live). Categories of questions included Basic Needs, Equity and Discrimination, Access to Care, Community Concerns, Quality of Life, Community Priorities, Health Information, and COVID-19 Impact.
Each group of second-year medical students reviewed literature and best practices, analyzed data from more than 1000 surveys, presented results, and made recommendations. The results are featured in the posters on display in the virtual event. The posters representing the students’ 17 group projects reflect public health needs and priorities in real time.
The survey findings revealed a greater perceived impact of the pandemic on Vermonters in rural parts of the state in multiple areas, including delays in substance use care; challenges in accessing mental health and dental care; financial stress; food affordability; concerns about alcohol and drug use, and housing concerns. However, the study’s results also suggested that rurality is not the only cause of perceived poor access to care in Vermont. There were also differences in how people gathered health information, with priorities in urban areas for the internet and Front Porch Forum, and rural populations preferring newspapers, posters, and Facebook.
“Across age, gender, income, and geographic patterns, Vermonters have been using telemedicine and support its use moving forward,” said Carney.
Other survey findings included a perceived lack of access to childcare, predominantly in folks between the ages of 18-44. A large proportion of respondents - roughly 50 percent – reported a perception of discrimination in their communities, when applying for jobs, and in healthcare.
Each student group has included recommendations for addressing the issues revealed in their respective focus area of the survey results, which can be viewed in their posters. In general, the medical students recommended a follow-up survey of counties with the greatest perceived need, in order to identify community-level strengths and weaknesses, elucidate gaps in care, and better tailor solutions to individual counties within Vermont.
“We are proud of our students and optimistic that Vermont communities and the people living there will directly benefit from their work,” said Carney.