January 18, 2002

Learning by the FACTS Program teaches future providers ways to treat chronic illnesses, disabilities

Featured Image

John Espey, father of a child with spina bifida, speaks to the clinical and research ethics class at Meharry Medical College this week as part of the Families as Classroom Teachers program. The program is sponsored by the Junior League Family Resource Center at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Learning by the FACTS Program teaches future providers ways to treat chronic illnesses, disabilities

Aspiring physicians, nurses and other health care professionals are learning first-hand the challenges and issues faced by families that have children with chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Families as Classroom Teachers (FACT) is a unique program designed to provide a bridge between traditional classroom experiences and real life experiences.

Sponsored by Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Junior League Family Resource Center, this unique training program is in its sixth year. Participating educational institutions are Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University. Approximately 175 presentations have been made to 1800 students. Last year was the first year the program was opened to teaching institutions outside Vanderbilt.

FACT families have children with illnesses that cover a wide spectrum, including epilepsy, autism, chromosomal disorders, and leukemia. Families are invited to speak to a class of students on the illness, the impact the illness has had on the family, and their interaction with health care workers. Alternatively, they may speak in small group discussions, or work directly with families in home or community settings.

“It is an invaluable resource to have these families share their expertise and experiences with students and instructors,” explained Barbara Ramsey, Ph.D., director of the Family Resource Center. “It allows students first-hand knowledge from those who are on the receiving end of health care. It enables students to learn from parents and caregivers who know their child best.”

Monica Urness, whose three-year-old son Devin has leukemia, said the students wanted to hear her experiences.

“It affects them and their future,” she said. “I stress that parents are primary in the care and treatment of their children and, therefore, need to feel comfortable in asking questions.”

Urness said it was important for the health care workers to have a positive attitude around the child they are caring for, and to openly communicate and direct the family towards resources on their child’s illness.

Recently, FACT instructor John Espy spoke to a group of Vanderbilt and Meharry medical students (part of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance) during a medical and research ethics class. Espy talked about the ethical issues from a family perspective.

“We’re building bridges between families and future health care practitioners that positively impact the care and well-being of children,” Ramsey said.

If you are an instructor and are interested in working with a FACT family, contact the Family Resource Center at 936-0097.