Community/Urban Health

Doctor using a tongue depressor looking into a child's mouth in an community setting

Community Health encompasses a rich set of programs, interventions, research, and policies aimed at improving the health of members of a community.  Rather than focusing exclusively on the individual, Community Health practitioners, researchers, and advocates expand their work to the broader context in which health occurs – the community.  But “community” is a multi-dimensional term that can describe a wide range of ways in which we as populations congregate and coalesce:  geographic location (e.g., neighborhood, city, state); venues for activities (e.g., work, education, faith-based organizations); and, shared characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, sex, orientation, religion). 

Given the breadth of the term “community” and because most people define themselves as members of multiple communities, Community Health is an exciting, evolving, and expansive topic.  The Community and Urban Health (CUH) track activities reflect this breadth. In the CUH track, students are exposed to a broad array of Community Health issues, programs, research, policies, and models of service delivery, with a particular focus on the urban setting.  Examples of CUH issues include:  food security, health equity and social determinants of health, culture and health, housing, community violence, disaster responsiveness, community-based participatory research, advocacy, and many others.

Program Objectives

  • Interpret the role of social and cultural determinants of health on community health
  • Discuss different modalities for assessing community health needs and designing appropriate interventions
  • Describe components of culturally competent clinical care, including care for patients from underserved communities in low-resource outpatient settings 
  • Identify categories of community resources that exist for commonplace community health problems as well as best practices for accessing the resources
  • Assess organizational functionality within community health sectors
  • Recognize the role of Clinicians in community health and community-based action to promote health

Meet Your Community/Urban Health Directors

Overview of Requirements

The CUH learning opportunities comprise a wide array of activities.  In Years 1 and 2, students attend a wide array of lectures, case studies, seminars, and other educational opportunities that draw on the expertise of GWU faculty and clinicians as well as community partners, practitioners, and health policy leaders from across Washington, D.C.  Students are also introduced to applied Community Health in Years 1 and 2 as they participate in a community-based opportunity, such as the student-run HEALing Clinic or relevant community organizations (e.g., Whitman-Walker Health, Mary’s Center, Miriam’s Kitchen).  This applied component of the CUH track is reinforced with the “Summer Experience” between Year 1 and Year 2, in which students select, arrange, and complete an enriching community health opportunity (clinical or non-clinical) that is additive to their studies and builds upon their interests.  In Years 3 and 4, students complete a community health focused “Scholarly Project,” an M.D. Program requirement that entails an in-depth exploration of a health or medical issue of interest.  In Year 4, students may select 1 of 3 unique community health electives to build leadership skills and expertise in particular fields.  Throughout the four-year CUH track, Track Directors and Faculty Advisers are available to provide input, direction, and mentorship through drop-in group sessions and the option of one-on-one meetings.

Program Activities and Schedule

Year 1

  • Orientation to CUH Track
Winter Break
  • Initial exploration of Summer Experience opportunities
  • Attend lectures/case studies/seminars
  • Participate in a community-based opportunity/Community Service Learning
  • Submit scholarship applications for Summer Experience (Optional)
  • Submit proposal for Summer Experience

Summer, Year 1-2

  • Complete Summer Experience

Year 2


  • Submit Summer Experience reflection paper
  • Attend lectures/case studies/seminars
  • Participate in a community-based opportunity/Community Service Learning

Year 3

All Year
  • Propose and implement Scholarly Project

Year 4

All Year
  • Community Health Elective - IDIS 354, 367; or MED 353
  • Complete Scholarly Project
  • Submit Scholarly Project deliverable

Description of Program Activities

Lecture/Case Studies/Seminars:  Between January of Year 1 and December of Year 2, students will attend 8 CUH lectures/case studies/seminars on a range of community health-related topics.  These sessions will be scheduled either as mid-day lunch sessions or as evening sessions to best accommodate guest schedules.  Some of these sessions may include preparatory readings or other pre-session activities, and every attempt will be made to make the sessions interactive and engaging.  Make-up opportunities are available, including attending authorized events sponsored by other Tracks, watching videos of previous CUH events, or similar; some make-up experiences may include a brief reflection assignment. 

Community-Based Opportunity:  Between January of Year 1 and December of Year 2, students will participate in at least 4 hours of community service monthly (or an equivalent time commitment as authorized by Track Directors) in a community-based organization(s) (clinical or non-clinical), such as the student-run HEALing Clinic or relevant community organizations (e.g., Whitman-Walker Health, Mary’s Center, Miriam’s Kitchen). Students will be given the opportunity to build relationships with community-based organizations and key personnel through these community service-learning (CSL) opportunities. Students will be able to draw on these experiences during track session discussions.

Summer Experience:  Between May of Year 1 and July before Year 2, students will complete an enriching experience (clinical or non-clinical) that is additive to their studies, builds upon their interests, and is related to community health (don’t worry – nearly everything is).  This experience can encompass a wide range of opportunities – from direct clinical services in a community setting to volunteering in an organization working to improve health at the community level to research on a topic with community health relevance to any number of other experiences.  The experience should represent a substantial time commitment for much of the Summer, but the goal is to ensure an enriching experience rather than to focus on the time or schedule.  Track Directors and Faculty Advisers are available to discuss specific proposals or questions during the regularly held drop-in sessions, and can meet individually after that if needed.  Students seeking scholarship support will submit their summer proposal February – March of Year 1, while the remaining students will submit proposals in early May.  Students complete a written reflection paper in August of Year 2.

Scholarly Project:  All GW SMHS medical students begin a scholarly project in Year 3 and complete it in Year 4.  These projects allow students to conduct an in-depth exploration of issues of interest in medicine and health.  For CUH students, the scholarly project provides an opportunity to explore community/urban health issues of particular interest to them.  Students begin considering project topics early in Year 3; the topic may be an extension of their Summer Experience, may be an issue raised during a Clerkship, or may be an issue of personal or professional interest.  Students are able to discuss the scholarly project during June and September CUH meetings in Year 3 (during Intersessions), and may attend drop-in sessions throughout the academic year.  Final deliverables are typically either a 10-15 page written paper or a poster with an oral presentation and a 1-page abstract; final deliverables are due in early March of Year 4.

Community Health Elective – HEALing Clinic Leadership (IDIS 354):  Students will enroll in IDIS 354 “Community Health Elective” during Year 4 and will participate in 12 HEALing Clinic sessions, assuming a leadership role during those clinic sessions. This is a 4 week elective, but students spread this course over the entire year to complete responsibilities.

Community Health Elective-Experiential Learning in Community Health (IDIS 367): Students are able to create project-specific community health leadership experiences through problem identification, multiple site visits & key informant interviews and policy proposals (8-10p final product). This is a 4 week elective, but students spread this course over the entire year to complete responsibilities.

Case-based Elective in Criminal Justice Health (MED 353):  Students are able to complete an intense 2-week rotation in the intersection of healthcare and criminal justice.  Students work closely with Dr. Newton Kendig as they complete case studies, write ups, and discussions on a variety of topics.  Time commitment is equivalent to IDIS 354 and IDIS 367. This is course is a 2 week elective, and students DO NOT have the option of spreading this course over the entire year to complete responsibilities.  However, longitudinal and immersion experiences are optional for students interested in other opportunities.

CUH Track “Philosophy and Culture:” 

The Scholarly Concentration Director and Faculty Advisers hope to foster a sense of community, shared mission and support among all who choose this Track – all students Years 1-4 and faculty. As such, we attempt to be very available for ad hoc meetings and discussions, and we sponsor regular unstructured ‘drop in’ sessions for people to gather, discuss projects, share experiences, and to make our own CUH community strong and mutually supportive. 

*Other educational opportunities and activities to enrich students’ experiences may be added to the curriculum during the program, at the discretion of the Scholarly Concentration Director.