Founded by cardiothoracic surgeon and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2003, HealthCorps is an American non-profit organization that provides school-based and organizational health education and peer mentoring, in addition to community outreach to under-served populations – mostly Hispanic and African American. Its mission is to make students happier and more productive by giving them life-saving skills in nutrition, fitness and mental resilience as well as CPR training, organ donation and more. The program claims to impact from 400 to 600 high school students per school per year.
HealthCorps was first designed as a 10-month pilot in partnership with Columbia Presbyterian Hospital as a response to “Healthy People 2010”—an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to advance nationwide disease prevention that included fighting childhood obesity. As a result, cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz and his wife, Lisa, founded the educational program based upon the pilot.
Based on a peer-mentor model, each HealthCorps "coordinator" is assigned one school in which he or she leads seminars five days a week on fitness, nutrition and mental resilience. The seminars are taught through health or other academic classes or through after-school clubs, as determined by a school’s principal. Seminar content is included in a 250-page curriculum and program guide developed by the HealthCorps Advisory Board. HealthCorps also engages in several community events such as health fairs, the largest of which are called "Highway to Health" festivals.
In 2007, HealthCorps embarked on a national roll-out to extend its health education and mentoring program to 36 schools, including 29 in New York City, two in New Jersey, one in Florida, and one in Pennsylvania. By this time all Coordinators were expected to serve full-time, five days a week during the school year teaching both in and out of the classroom. HealthCorps realized that, along with delivering curriculum, the program and its network of schools serve as a unique opportunity to discover of how best to communicate with and understand teens, identify best practices for behavioral change and identify effective regional, state and federal school policy; thus, it assumed the name “Living Labs”.
To meet the demands of a thriving program, HealthCorps staff and board members developed the first written curriculum—combining lessons created by the original nine Coordinators with content from the YOU™ book series authored by HealthCorps Chairman Dr. Mehmet Oz and Advisory Board Member Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic. Since 2008, as HealthCorps continued to expand into more schools across the U.S., the curriculum has been regularly updated and enhanced.
In the evolving curriculum the emphasis was increasingly placed on students developing knowledge as well as skills. The core curriculum consists of an introduction to the program and its methodology followed by twelve lessons broken into four units that focus on skill for:
- A Healthy Mind
- Healthy Eating
- A Healthy Body
- A Healthy YOU (self-care)
In 2013, in response to requests from educators for training in the curriculum, HealthCorps piloted a secondary professional development program called “HealthCorps University” in California with the Sacramento Unified School District. By 2013 the Living Labs program had expanded to 62 schools across 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Since its inception HealthCorps University and Living Labs have impacted approximately two million students. 261 young people have served as Coordinators the majority of whom have gone on to medical school. 144 high schools across America have served as Living Labs.