How do we do medical education differently to meet the needs of a constantly changing workplace and society? What can Colorado Springs do uniquely to train physicians? These are questions that energize Dr. Heather Cassidy. As director for community engagement of the University of Colorado School of Medicine Colorado Springs Branch, Cassidy helps design the curriculum, with an innovative focus on community health needs assessment, social determinants of health and leadership development.
“We have the ability to take a small cohort of students and immerse them in the lived experience of community health,” Cassidy says. “And we have a wealth of awesome organizations in this city that are doing meaningful social advocacy, so we can partner with them and think a little bit nontraditionally about how to create the physician of the future.”
Cassidy has facilitated a variety of partnerships with local groups, such as Springs Rescue Mission, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, United Way and many more, to help medical students understand the full spectrum of societal healthcare needs and opportunities, including people facing limited resources or poverty. One such program allows students to provide firsthand patient care at the local, free Mission Medical Clinic.
At the same time, Cassidy treats patients of her own half of each week, and she is known for the empathetic and personal care she tries to instill in her students. “Her notes and interactions with patients show compassion and excellent patient care, which is hard to replicate,” says colleague Dr. Pamela Coffey.
“I love that [clinical] work. It’s really meaningful, and it roots me,” Cassidy says. “Then when I’m feeling maybe a little frayed or pulled in a lot of directions medically, I come and spend time with students and time in the community. That really balances things out and keeps me feeling refreshed and committed to the work I do when I go back to the clinic.”
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