UA Health Sciences’ ‘Project Taking Charge’ Benefits Students and Patients

Jun 4, 2018

A program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is providing access to health care for underserved communities and the opportunity for health-professions students to practice in a real-world setting.

Project Taking Charge (PTC), a Tucson community-based health education program created at the UA Health Sciences to help address health disparities in underserved communities, seeks to improve health through patient self-management.

The program encourages the adoption of personal responsibility in the management of one’s health by providing enrollees with health assessments, information on implementing a healthful lifestyle and preventing illness, along with follow-up visits to improve health and maximize life expectancy.

The program teaches innovative thinking and collaboration by bringing together an interprofessional team of UA Health Sciences students from the colleges of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health who gain health care training experience within Tucson’s most underserved communities

Health professionals from the UA College of Pharmacy, the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, the UA College of Nursing, the and the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health work as partners training the new generation of health-care providers. Students work in project teams developing action plans tailored for the patients they are seeing.

The students provide physical exams, screenings for blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, blood sugar and test for diabetes through a multi-session program available to adults and their families.  

In addition to physical exams, Project Taking Charge provides information for participants to take personal responsibility for their health by adapting simple behavioral changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle to create better health outcomes.

"This experience gave me the opportunity to work outside of a hospital setting and focus more as a community health nurse,” said UA College of Nursing student Miguel Nava. “I spoke with many different individuals from the community and heard not just concerns for their own well-being but for their community. Seeing many elderly individuals with some type of cardiovascular disease led me to believe this is an issue throughout the community. After discussing this concern with the team, we decided to provide information about related community health resources that they may not have known about at our final health fair."

The program was created by Theodore Tong, PharmD, associate dean, professor and R. Ken Coit Endowed Chair of pharmacy, Sheila Parker, MS, MPH, DrPH, lecturer at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Jenny Chong, PhD, research associate professor in the UA Department of Neurology.

Created to shift from the current health provider “dependency model,” Project Taking Charge is based on a patient self-management model where patients are provided with the tools they need to self-manage their health through lifestyle choices and health practices. The model is aimed at combating rising health-care costs that can further alienate families who are struggling to get health care and who then often depend on emergency care for their needs, further increasing the cost of care.

The team wrote the original one-year grant, which was funded by the Arizona Area Health Education Centers to initiate the program in 2015. In its first year, Project Taking Charge took place at Tucson Parks and Recreation - Fred Archer Neighborhood Center, the second year took place at the Tucson Sharon Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Now in its third year, Project Taking Charge is a 12 to 15-week program and is funded by the UA College of Pharmacy R. Ken Coit Endowment and the Arizona Area Health Education Centers program. The program offered services at Templo La Uncion, a bilingual church and community resource center.

The program collaborated with the UA Hispanic Center of Excellence, which assisted with recruiting Spanish-speaking health-care students, cross-cultural training and Spanish language translations, as well as establishing the relationship to bring services to Templo La Uncion.

“Changing the behavior of one individual in the family leads to changes in the behaviors and practices of other family members and has the potential to affect multiple generations. Children mimic what they see, they need to see good health models to avoid unhealthful lifestyles and premature death, avoiding obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or diabetes, or more importantly many life-threatening conditions such as strokes or heart attacks,” said Dr. Tong.

Data collected from 2015-2018 led to program enhancements, including improving its interdisciplinary aspects through greater collaboration with the other UA Health Sciences colleges, providing cross-cultural training to build trust within communities and insights on how to increase program participation to better serve vulnerable communities.

Linda Perez, RN, M Admin, senior lecturer with the UA College of Nursing, said, “As professionals we must serve as role models for our students and provide them with real-world collaboration opportunities with other health disciplines. In this important practice, we truly can serve the patients in our community with the most need."

This year’s program included a special “Project Taking Charge for Kids,” providing children an opportunity to learn about careers in pharmacy, medicine, nursing and public health. The children learned how to make hand sanitizer to gain insights on germs and how to prevent the spread of disease and how to test sunscreen to prevent the sun from causing skin damage. They also learned about diet, exercise, sleep habits and mental health – and their progress was tracked through periodic check-ups.

To learn more about Project Taking Charge or to participate, please contact Professor Theodore Tong, tong@pharmacy.arizona.edu.

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