By Kim Walter
WINCHESTER - Thanks to a new three-year grant, health professions students at Shenandoah University will graduate with advanced knowledge of how to improve health outcomes for patients in rural Virginia and West Virginia.
The grant, in excess of $1.1 million, is for a project to integrate interprofessional education into the university's advance practice nursing curriculum and prepare health professionals for rural health care initiatives.
According to the World Health Organization, "collaborative practice-ready" health care workers learn to practice in an interprofessional team.
In order to provide this type of professional for the health care workforce, the project, created by the Shenandoah University Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing's graduate program, will integrate the interprofessional education into the university's curriculum.
The project also will partner with Shenandoah University's Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, the divisions of physical therapy and occupational therapy and the university's physician assistant studies program to prepare health professionals to work together in order to assist patients with multiple chronic conditions.
Juliana Fehr, associate professor and director of the Nurse-Midwifery Program, will serve as the project director. She said the project will better prepare students for the changing landscape of a 21st century health care environment.
"That environment increasingly calls on nurses, pharmacists, physicians and others to work as a team to deliver care in a high quality and safe manner," she said.
Central to the project is a Web-based virtual interprofessional learning center that will share lectures and clinical learning activities with all nursing, pharmacy and health professions students and faculty who will learn to work together in simulated and interactive formats.
These same learning opportunities will be offered to students and faculty in remote, rural and medically underserved areas.
Fehr said the virtual learning center will serve as a three-credit elective course for a majority of health professions students.
Simulated case studies will call on three students from different health professions to assess one patient with multiple issues. The students will be required to consult with each other to determine the best ways to care for a patient.
"So, say you've got a pregnant woman who also has pain from a past knee injury," she said. "This project will teach our students how they can refer a patient to another specialty, how they should consult and collaborate with other health care providers, and what types of questions they should ask."
Faculty will be watching and filming the scenarios in order to evaluate the students' collaboration.
The virtual learning opportunities will be available to physicians and other health professionals who are already practicing as a source of continuing education, Fehr said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration is fully funding the project in the amount of $374,738 in the first year, and has recommended future funding for the second and third years of the project, for a total of $1,120,652.
Fehr said funds will go toward building the necessary software and infrastructure for the virtual learning center, as well as paying coordinators, faculty members and other consultants.
The grant, Fehr said, represents the university's commitment to its communit-- both of providers and patients.
"When health professionals learn together, they will work well together," she said. "We are so appreciative that funds have been dedicated to increasing the quality and access of health care to the rural population."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org