Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR)

Track on Urban Community Health (TOUCH)

Pablo Joo, M.D.
Assistant Dean for Medical Education


The SOAR “Track on Urban Community Health” (TOUCH) is designed for medical students who are interested in improving the health status of diverse urban underserved patients, families, and communities. The goals of the TOUCH concentration are: 1) to allow students to develop a longitudinal community-based health initiative with community involvement and participation 2) to allow students to formulate a research project that assesses health outcomes linked to their initiative and 3) to provide mentorship to students in developing critical thinking, leadership and advocacy skills.

These initiatives can take the form of a longitudinal community-based health outreach project or a clinical health systems research project. Examples of possible health outreach initiatives include development of an obesity prevention project in a local elementary school; reproductive health talks to high risk adolescents in detention centers; LGBT wellness promotion initiatives in partnership with a local community advocacy center; or programs to reduce emergency room visits of women at a homeless shelter. Examples of possible health systems research projects could include a study exploring best practices that enhance access to long-term primary care for uninsured patients at the ECHO student-run free clinic; an investigation exploring how a community-based clinic can become a “patient-centered medical home”; or a quality improvement project enhancing health outcomes for geriatric patients with diabetes at a primary care clinic.

The actual nature of a student’s TOUCH project would be based on both their area of interest and the needs and priorities identified by the community-based organization and their clients or the clinic leadership and their patients. The Bronx is the home of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the Bronx ranks number 62 out of 62 New York State counties in terms of overall health outcomes. There is no shortage of possible health initiatives in one of the country’s poorest communities.

During the first year, students meet with Dr. Pablo Joo to discuss possible areas of interest for their health outreach initiative or clinical health systems research project. Dr. Joo will connect students to appropriate mentors such as faculty physicians and researchers, community advocates, community-based organization leadership, clinic directors, and other TOUCH / SOAR students. Community health outreach projects are rarely accomplished by one student alone, and students will be encouraged to work in teams whenever possible.

Students in the TOUCH concentration will be required to take the first year elective “Health Disparities: From Awareness to Action,” the annual “Social Medicine” courses, and the fourth year Einstein-Montefiore elective “Research-based Health Activism.”  

Students who participate in the TOUCH concentration will have interactive seminars in the first and second years on the principles of Community-oriented Primary Care, the health status and community tour of the Bronx, health literacy, the bio-psychosocial model of health and illness, how to write an abstract, fundamentals of the Institutional Review Board, the Patient-centered Medical Home, principles of quality improvement, and partnering with a statistician before starting your project. Some sessions will be unique to TOUCH while others are shared with the other SOAR tracks.

The capstone requirement for the TOUCH concentration students will be a poster and/or oral presentation about their initiative at a national society conference (e.g., American Academy of Pediatrics, Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, Society of General Internal Medicine, etc.); a scholarly paper for the TOUCH faculty leadership (which could be submitted for publication if appropriate); and an oral presentation about their project to the SOAR faculty and students.

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