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Healthcare, the Environment, and Biomedicine

Why do people in some communities in the U.S. live, on average, 20-25 years longer than people in other communities? Around Richmond, why do the residents of Gilpin Court near the Medical College of Virginia at VCU live, on average, 20 years shorter than the residents of Westover Hills and neighborhoods around UR? Why does Virginia have some counties with the longest life expectancy and some counties with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S.? And what do these disparities say about the impacts of medical access and the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health? These are the main questions that guide this SSIR program.

Explore health policy in Healthcare Studies 100: what makes us sick, what keeps us healthy, and what it would take to give good health the upper hand for all U.S. residents.

Inside the Classroom

Students in the classroom learn why and how over the last century, clean drinking water, modern sanitation, and good nutrition—along with the development of highly effective vaccines, antibiotics and medical treatments of all kinds—have increased average life expectancy by a remarkable 35 or more years. However, in recent decades, disparities in overall health and life expectancy have increased dramatically in the U.S. Extraordinary improvements in environmental health and biomedicine have become increasingly concentrated in wealthier communities, while poorer communities have experienced striking declines in overall health and life expectancy. As this class explores, these disparities have economic underpinnings, significant personal implications, and major political consequences (as the 2016 election illustrated). 

Outside the Classroom

Connect what you learn in class through various experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom. Students attend lectures by public and global health leaders, meet Richmond alumni working in the medical, health policy and public health fields, connect with UR’s medical and health policy student organizations, and attend programs and events. A component of the class is community-based learning (CBL). Students will engage in weekly service-learning at one of several different sites in the Richmond community over the course of ~15 hours in the fall semester. The CBL sites include (but are by no means limited to):

CrossOver Medical Clinic and Ministry
James River Association / Richmond City Health Department
VCU Health System / Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU
The Daily Planet / Richmond Memorial Health Foundation
The Faison School for Autism / The READ Center
Planned Parenthood / Northside Strong
World Pediatric Project / Tricycle Gardens
UREMS’s EMT training and certification course
UREMS / Richmond Ambulance Authority / Henrico Volunteer Rescue Squad

Students will take two community trips to: (1) Shenandoah National Park in August just before UR starts for hiking, camping, and eco/nature therapy and (2) Bar Harbor Island, Maine over fall break to learn more about environmental health and biomedical research.

Research and Capstone Project

During the spring semester, students work in groups with their classmates to create a capstone project and present it to the University community on a health policy or public health issue.

Past capstone project topics have included:

  • Comparing U.S. health care with health care systems around the world
  • Mental health needs of college students
  • Sex education and reproductive health
  • Sexual assault prevention & treatment
  • “Hot spotting” the needs of very sick, high cost patients
  • The importance of clean water, air and affordable nutritious food
  • “Nature deficit disorder” and the positive health effects of being outdoors
  • School-based public health and health care services for children
  • The Affordable Care Act and the politics of health policy reform
  • Racial, economic and gender health disparities and access to medical care
  • Being “Pre-Med” and different paths to careers in medicine and health care

This Course Fulfills

HCS 100 fulfills the introductory course requirement for both the major and minor in Healthcare Studies.

Course Fast Facts

Rick Mayes, Ph.D., 

Fall course:
HCS 100: Introduction to Healthcare Studies (1 unit)
Fall 2019: Monday/Wednesday, 9:00-10:15 am

Spring course:
IDST 290: Healthcare Studies Seminar (.5 unit)
Spring 2019: Fridays, 12–1 p.m.
Spring 2020: TBD

Residence hall:
Gray Court (2018–19)
Gray Court (2019–20)

Group travel:
Shenandoah National Park (September 6-8, 2019)
Bar Harbor Island, Maine (Fall Break)

Years Offered: 2018–19, 2019–20

Student Features

This community attracts students from many academic and personal backgrounds, and for many students this community has shaped their experience during their time at Richmond and beyond. Read more about our past Health Care (Global Health) SSIR students:

Maria Sebastian, '12
Simrun Bal, '13
Caitlin Harman, '12
Addie Rauschert, '13
Kevin Kindler, '13
Rachel Pricer, '13 
Hannah Jacobson, '15 
Chase Brightwell, '15 
Whitney Schwalm, '15
Soleil Shah, '17