Investing in Community Health through Youth Engagement: The Public Health Action Curriculum for Teens

Laura Banks, MPH, DVM. Associate Professor, Director

University of New Mexico, Department of Emergency Medicine

Diabetes and heart disease are on increasing in New Mexico. According to New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System, in 2014, 10.2% of adults were diagnosed with diabetes and 151.7 per 100,000 adults died from heart disease in New Mexico. The Albuquerque-University of New Mexico (UNM) Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) wanted to tackle this issue with an innovative community engagement approach using a corner stone of any community: the youth.


In 2013-2014 the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) awarded the Albuquerque-UNM MRC their MRC Challenge Award. The UNM-MRC created an advisory group with UNM Health Science Center, the Albuquerque Department of Health, and the Office of School and Adolescent Health to prioritize the health topics the program needed to address in the community. The advisory group chose the following topics: (1) chronic disease prevention; (2) health equity and public health careers; (3) emotional and mental wellbeing; (4) first aid and CPR; and (5) personal preparedness. Sexual health, drug addiction, and alcohol were not chosen since programs currently exist to address these issues locally.

After contacting a variety of youth organizations in the community, the UNM MRC partnered with the Health Leadership High School and created the Public Health Action Curriculum for Teens (PHACT). In 2014, PHACT launched with the aim “to educate youth participants on the public health issues that can impact the New Mexico communities the most.” By training young people with public health concepts, PHACT is creating a health-conscious future for New Mexico.

A group of 20-25 students from two different classes at Health Leadership High School participated in a video series containing 20-minute videos on the different health topics. The students received instruction on the various health topics from the previous MRC coordinator Ashley McConnell Vanderjagt, MPH. After thoroughly learning the content, the students practiced teaching the content with a teleprompter. With their content knowledge and presentation abilities firmly in place, the students filmed the videos with production help from the UNM’s New Media and Extended Learning team. McConnell Vanderjagt narrated all the videos.

Each video relates the module topics with what teens can do personally to address health issues themselves, for their community, and for their families. PHACT amplified these messages by interviewing UNM faculty experts, staff from the Department of Health, local MRC members, and members form the New Mexico Forum for Youth. Although the PHACT curriculum was developed for New Mexico, it is useful for other youth as well since it discusses broad public health issues. Each module is available on YouTube, the UNM Health Sciences Center Moodle, and on DVD. If taken through the UNM Health Sciences Center learning management system, every video module is followed by a quiz and the course closes with a final exam. The UNM-Albuquerque MRC received another NACCHO Challenge Award grant in 2015 and used those funds to create transcripts to the modules in Spanish.

The New Mexico Public Education Department will be adopting the modules as part of their official public school online learning system, Ideal New Mexico. Students in New Mexico can participate in the modules in their school’s curriculum if they are enrolled in the online system. The UNM-Albuquerque MRC also shared the modules with the local Boys and Girls Club and HOSA, a future health professional’s organization, to increase community interest in the modules.

Despite the challenges that come with working with youth, their passion and dedication contributed to the success and vibrancy of the PHACT learning modules. By engaging with the youth of Albuquerque, the UNM-Albuquerque MRC is helping create a brighter and healthier future for New Mexico.

Learn more about NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Awards at



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