Office of Community Engagement
The Office of Community Engagement bridges students, faculty and staff with community initiatives designed to address social determinants of health within the northeastern and central regions of Pennsylvania. Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, as a community-based school of medicine, believes that community engagement is anchored in the principles of trust and mutuality of interest where our knowledge and resources are offered in collaboration with those of public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, address critical societal issues, enhance curriculum, teaching and learning, prepare educated, engaged citizens and contribute to the public good.
Since inception, Geisinger Commonwealth has engaged communities throughout the region to promote access to quality healthcare and increase wellness throughout our communities. In addition to community engaged activities embedded throughout our curriculum, our students, faculty and staff support community priorities identified by the regional community health needs assessment conducted by the school and updated by partner institutions periodically. As a result our initiatives advance the following:
Service to community
Students are required to volunteer 100 hours of service in addition to any curricular activity. In 2016, the student volunteer policy was reviewed and revised to require the volunteer hours to focus on social determinants of health in the northeastern and central regions of Pennsylvania.
Strengthening the pipeline to medicine
Low socioeconomic status (SES) together with inadequate employment, family function and educational attainment are associated with compromised health across the entire life span. Low SES alone is one of the strongest predictors of poor health and development, not just because material deprivation constrains behavior and lifestyle choices among those living in poverty, but because neuroendocrine responses to the stress that SES imposes influence psychosocial well-being. (Kristenson M, Eriksen HR, Sluiter JK, Starke D, Ursin H. Psychobiological mechanisms of socioeconomic differences in health. Soc Sci Med. 2004;58:1511-1522.)
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in its Healthy People 2020 highlights the importance of social determinants of health and includes education as one of the five key determinants of health. Recognizing the importance of education in breaking poverty cycles and improving overall wellness, Geisinger Commonwealth early on established as a priority programs that would advance the education of low-SES, first-generation-to-college and youth from communities underrepresented in medicine. The following initiatives are in place to address this important priority:
- Regional Education Academy for Careers in Health - Higher Education Initiative (REACH-HEI)
- REACH-HEI Undergraduate Summer Enrichment Research Internship
- Center of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion (COE)
- Student-led service initiatives
Diversity and inclusion
Diversity enriches our learning environment. Diverse points of view anchored in life experiences, community and culture are important to enhance doctors’ research, innovation and overall care of patients. The school’s community is enhanced as we strive for diversity at all levels and create a climate of inclusion where faculty, students and staff benefit from the value added by an enriched academic and professional environment. The recruitment and inclusion of qualified women and traditionally underrepresented minorities in medicine and biomedical sciences, specifically African American/Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics and Native Americans as members of our faculty, staff and student body is a Geisinger Commonwealth priority. Geisinger Commonwealth also prioritizes the recruitment of students who are northeastern and central Pennsylvania and/or Pennsylvania residents.
Geisinger Commonwealth’s leadership, faculty, staff and students share important responsibilities in the achievement and maintenance of an environment that reflects and sustains these important goals. The chief diversity officer supports system-wide initiatives that enhance recruitment of a diverse student body, learning experiences and promotes faculty and staff diversity continuously add value to the learning experiences of the Geisinger Commonwealth community. The Council on Diversity and Inclusion, led by the chief diversity officer, assesses progress and recommends progressive steps to maintain an environment that sustains excellence and embraces diversity as a key driver to achieve our goals. Some of our accomplishments include:
- Establishment of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded COE for diversity and inclusion providing minority and disadvantaged students the opportunity to participate in a seamless pipeline leading to undergraduate medical education. The COE seeks to establish a model pipeline approach to ensure a “leakless” pathway to becoming a physician.
- Establishment of a scholarship for underrepresented minorities in medicine and biomedical sciences and/or disadvantaged and first-generation college and minority students who have been admitted to Geisinger Commonwealth.
- Establishment of a Summer Enrichment Research Internship for pre-matriculated disadvantaged and minority students.
- Innovative partnerships with regional and local organizations to increase interest and improve proficiencies of high school and undergraduate students in science, healthcare-related careers and medicine.
- Internship, service and volunteer opportunities for students throughout the region.
- The establishment of REACH-HEI to improve science proficiencies among economically disadvantaged intermediate and high school students in the Geisinger footprint.
Geisinger Commonwealth on non-discrimination
Geisinger Commonwealth is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our community and to ensuring that activities and employment decisions are based on individuals’ abilities and qualifications. Consistent with this principle and applicable laws, it is therefore Geisinger Commonwealth policy not to discriminate in offering access to its programs and activities or with respect to employment terms and conditions on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Such a policy ensures that only relevant factors are considered and that equitable and consistent standards of conduct and performance are applied. Any inquiries regarding Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine non-discrimination policies should be brought to the attention of: Ida L. Castro, JD, vice president for community engagement and chief diversity officer, 570-504-9647, firstname.lastname@example.org.
As vice president for community engagement & chief diversity officer, Ida L. Castro, JD, heads Geisinger Commonwealth’s diversity and inclusion and social justice efforts pertaining to leadership, students, faculty and staff, and initiates multicultural programming. Dr. Castro is the principal investigator for the $3.4 million HRSA funded COE and established the REACH-HEI. Dr. Castro reaches out to educational and community groups to create programs that advance the region’s interests and needs, with special attention to its rural, disadvantaged and minority populations. In addition, she engages the school community to build local, regional, statewide and national initiatives and support for Geisinger Commonwealth’s overarching mission and goals. Dr. Castro joined Geisinger Commonwealth in September 2008, with more than 25 years of experience in law, academia, not-for-profit and government agencies, including serving as the first Latina chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – to which she was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Dr. Castro is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico. She received her master’s degree from Rutgers University and her juris doctorate from Rutgers School of Law. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in human letters by St. Joseph’s College.