Student Resource Navigator Overview

A collaborative health equity program to bridge clinical and social care.

Student Resource Navigator in front of OBGYN office.

A collaborative health equity program to bridge clinical and social care.

Baby and parent hands stock photo

A collaborative health equity program to bridge clinical and social care.

Student Resource Navigator Program

The Student Resource Navigator program is a collaboration between community-based organizations and health care providers to help identify community members’ needs and support them to connect to local resources that can help. This program’s design emerged from needs assessment from the Childhood Nutrition Collaborative. The pilot program launched in partnership with OBGYN & Midwifery Associates of Ithaca in summer 2022, and currently receives referrals from Women's Health of Cayuga Medical Associates and Northeast Pediatrics, with plans to expand to at least two additional primary care practices in Fall 2023.

The public health world is increasingly recognizing how much of our health is based on the conditions where we live, work, learn, and play rather than just the care we get at our doctors’ offices. When there are barriers to accessing things like nutritious food, safe housing, or transportation, communities’ health and well-being suffer. Because of this, connecting people to resources that can meet these types of social needs is an important strategy to improve health outcomes and health equity.

How the program works from the patient perspective:

  • Patients fill out a social needs screening form at their doctor’s office and indicate whether they want assistance with any needs. 
  • During the first call, Navigators listen and ask questions to learn more about the specifics of patients’ situations and work with them to connect with local resources that can help.
  • Navigators complete follow-up calls 2 and 4 weeks after the initial call to see how things are going and whether or not patients need any additional support.

Here are some of the things happening behind the scenes to make this possible:

  • Development of a training curriculum for students, with topics including Social Determinants of Health, person-centered care, effective communication skills, cultural humility, and the ecosystem of local resources.
  • Regular check-ins with partners to touch base on updates, reflect on learnings, troubleshoot challenges, and plan for program growth.
  • Meetings with the network of community service providers receiving referrals through this program to discuss details of their services and preferred referral pathways for warm handoffs.
  • Expansion of Cayuga Health Partners’s internal tech platform to allow practices to refer to Student Resource Navigators and allow for referral tracking and HIPAA-compliant documentation of calls.
  • Engagement of Community Advisors with lived experience of accessing community resources to inform design of screening tool, structure of program, and training of Navigators.
  • Coordination with campus partners to help recruit and financially support pre-health students from diverse backgrounds to participate in the program.

Student Resource Navigators are employees of Cayuga Health Partners. CCE-Tompkins trains and provides support to the student team as well as engaging the Community Advisors and the network of community-based organizations receiving referrals through this program. Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) provides support recruiting strong student candidates and supporting their participation.


Grace Parker Zielinski
Community Health Coordinator
(607) 272-2292

Last updated August 23, 2023