UCSF Program Cultivates Sense of Community Engagement

By Kate Darby Rauch

Chief Pediatric Resident Sonny Tat isn’t a seasoned soccer player. But there’s a good chance he can be found kicking, dribbling and maybe even pulling off a good header in a heated San Francisco match.

It’s easy to spot Tat — he’s one of the oldest guys on the field, by about 20 years. His teammates are third to fifth graders. 

What many people may not realize is that these soccer games are part of Tat’s medical practice. Spending time with kids away from UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, where Tat is based, is almost as important to being a good doctor as time spent in the clinic, he says.

UCSF leaders agree. The after-school program behind Tat’s soccer games, called SCORES, is one of several community organizations awarded grants this year from University Community Partnerships (UCP) program.

The partnerships awarded 2010 grants run the gamut from improving well-child visits through parent education in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood to conducting a 12-week computer literacy course in Spanish to improve the health of primary care patients in the Mission District.

Launched in 2006, the UCP works to strengthen the University’s connection with the community and to empower the community to partner with the University. The goal of the grants program is to improve public health and decrease health disparities within San Francisco. Developing strong partnerships in the local community and reducing health disparities are two goals outlined in the UCSF Strategic Plan.

Communities Teach Doctors

“As a pediatrician we spend so much time focused on illness and disease, we sometimes feel a little disconnected from the families and kids we work with,” said Tat, who discovered SCORES while searching for neighborhood volunteer opportunities and was soon looking for ways UCSF could support the effort.

“Being involved in the community really reminds you, you’re not in an isolated bubble,” Tat said. “Your clinical practice should inform your understanding of the community, and your knowledge of the community should inform your clinical practice.” 

Tat is learning, he said, how profoundly the SCORES kids’ health is influenced by street violence, and family stress about money and employment.

Through soccer, writing and other creative expressions, and community service, SCORES (officially called America SCORES Bay Area) provides after-school activities to more than 1,000 urban kids in the Bay Area, including in San Francisco.

Among those working to strengthen UCSF’s community partnerships are, from left, Joseph Castro, vice provost of Student Academic Affairs, Naomi Wortis, the faculty co-director of University Community Partnerships and associate clinical professor of Family & Community Medicine, and Dixie Horning, executive director of the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health and current member of the council.

With the goal of inspiring kids to lead healthy lifestyles, be engaged students, and become agents of positive change, the SCORES program fits perfectly with the mission of the community partnership’s annual grant program, said Wylie Liu, UCP director.

“Universities are often viewed as isolated institutions—the Ivy Tower,” Liu said. “There’s recognition that academia should chip in and help out their communities and UCSF is in a good place to do this because we have a lot to contribute. But we can be even more engaged, and more cognizant of the needs—the gaps where we can really help.”

Mutually Beneficial Exchanges

The community partnership, which strives to promote an exchange of ideas, resources, and expertise between UCSF and its neighbors, gave grants to 19 organizations this year. 

SCORES received the “big grant” of $50,000, with the others getting $2,500 each. All of the grantees have some link to health care, either providing a service, education, research, or employment development. The application process is competitive, and grants are given for specific projects.

But there’s a twist. Organizations don’t go the grant process alone. To be eligible, they must partner with a UCSF staff or faculty member, student, fellow or resident who collaborates on the project.

This means pediatrician Tat could soon be adding hip-hop moves to his off-campus doctoring. SCORES is using its grant to add a hip-hop-based nonviolence curriculum to its San Francisco after-school program.

“The hope is that small early interventions will pay off big in the long term,” Tat said.

Mount Zion pediatric experts will also review curriculum, assist with program evaluation, and be available as guest speakers.

“This isn’t a traditional partnership between a community-based organization and a hospital,” said Eva Sippola, director of Development and Health Initiatives for SCORES. “To me, this is really an ultimate collaboration. UCSF has expertise that the community doesn’t have, and we have insight into our community. We really do need each other.”

Robert Hendren, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry, is working with the Seneca Center, which provides mental health services to at-risk youth.

Seneca received a small grant to help fund the evaluation of services to foster kids. Learning how best to reach these children is important to training psychiatrists, and to those already in the field, Hendren said. “They have something we don’t have [clients], and we have something they don’t have [evaluation experts]. It’s a real two-way street.”

The partnership has an added benefit, Liu says. It hooks professional health students on community work, an ideal often lost after matriculation. “Along the way, they lose interest. We want to cultivate that sense of community engagement.”

Related Links:

2010 UCSF Office of Community Partnership Community Grantees 

University Community Partnerships website

UCSF Forms University-Community Partnerships Council
UCSF Today, May 26, 2006