August 12, 2010

Students immerse themselves in new health learning model

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Neighborhood Resource Center’s Melissa Gordon, right, talks with health studies immersion students during a tour. (photo by Joe Howell)

Students immerse themselves in new health learning model

Six students involved in a groundbreaking new health education program recently stood in a noisy play area at the West Nashville Community Center, straining to hear Center Manager Lisa Hearn describe the essential services the Metro Parks facility offers to neighboring residents — things like safe entertainment, free child care and affordable summer camp.

The tour was part of a two-week immersion experience for 26 students from different health disciplines and academic institutions in the Nashville area. The purpose was to introduce them to one another and the challenging task at hand in health care.

The students are the first participants in the Vanderbilt University Fellowship in Inter-professional Learning: a new paradigm for the education of students in health-related fields.

The fellowship, partially funded by a more than $500,000 grant from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, will be shared over the next three years by the Vanderbilt University Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

In this special, inter-professional learning program, first-year medical students and first-year advanced nurse practitioner students from Vanderbilt are combined with first-year pharmacy students from the Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy; the Belmont University School of Pharmacy, and first-year Master's level social work students from the Tennessee State University School of Social Work.

“The students expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for what they learned about the Nashville community and the issues facing patients that are at the poverty level,” said Linda Norman, D.S.N., R.N., senior associate dean for Academics at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.

“They told us they thought this type of experience should be a requirement for all their student colleagues,” she said, adding that faculty members are just as enthusiastic about the outcome of the immersion experience.

Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy student Brandon Weldy and fellow immersion learning students travel to the West Nashville Community Center. (photo by Joe Howell)

Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy student Brandon Weldy and fellow immersion learning students travel to the West Nashville Community Center. (photo by Joe Howell)

Bonnie Miller, M.D., senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine is the principal investigator for the grant.

Norman and Don Moore, Ph.D., professor of Medical Education and Administration and director of Continuing Medical Education at the School of Medicine, are co-investigators working to implement this team approach to education.

This effort to teach teamwork is a team effort itself, involving 30 or more professionals from academic institutions across Middle Tennessee, with the single goal of breaking through the traditional “siloed” structure for teaching health care.

As the six students toured the West Nashville Community Center, three more vans carrying other teams of students toured other neighborhoods within Nashville similarly challenged by poverty and lack of services. The students were given a task to accomplish while they were touring. For the students in the West Nashville van, it was to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables for a student dinner that night.

“I was shocked at how difficult that task was,” said Anna Ahn, a first-year VUSM student. “After looking at three or four places, we only found one with avocados, a couple of near-rotten tomatoes and onions. We ended up making guacamole because that was all we could do.”

Throughout the two-week experience, students were given projects to work on together and individually, to explore the different perspectives on health care that each discipline brings to patient care. Presentations included lectures from leadership in the Tennessee State Health Department and a poverty simulation provided by Sharon Shields from Peabody College.

Brandon Weldy, a student pharmacist from Lipscomb University, talked about how each of his new teammates share the philosophy that caring for a patient takes a holistic approach, and a team to apply today's complex medical knowledge.

“The teamwork concept is one of the newer aspects of health care,” he said. “I got into pharmacy studies because I like working with people, and this is an opportunity to develop our co-worker relationship and to work in groups with a focus on the people we serve together.”

Julie Hudgens, Pharm.D., assistant professor at the Belmont University School of Pharmacy and Academic Coordinator for Experiential Education, said she hopes the fellowship results in greater appreciation and increased utilization of team once the students enter practice. Z. Leah Harris, M.D., the medical director for the Fellowship from Vanderbilt's School of Medicine agreed.

“It was both fascinating and reassuring to watch the group separate into social networks during the immersion, based on their team designations, and not on their professional assignments,” Harris said.

Once the two-week immersion ended, the students went back to their schools to begin their traditional coursework. Beginning in September, the teams will come together each week for a two-hour class that will replace a similar course in each program.

The teams will also meet for one afternoon clinic experience each week at one of four area clinics.

“These students will be doing meaningful work at these clinics,” Miller said. “We know from the Shade Tree Clinic model that these bright people can offer a lot with the proper supervision. We hope this first year provides evidence that we might use to double or triple the number of participating clinics next year.”

The ultimate vision is to expand this team-learning experience to all students in these programs.

Representatives from the fellowship were selected from more than 30 programs with similar goals, to present at a Carnegie-Macy conference in Stanford, Calif., this past June. The Middle Tennessee program appears to be unique in offering a clinic-based experience for the teams that will span the length of their educational program.