Grant to provide further training for health students

With the financial assistance of a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, graduate level health students at Shenandoah University will receive further training for drug abuse assessment and treatment.

If all conditions are met, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will award the university $935,393 over a three-year period. The program will focus on interprofessional Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Health Treatment (SBIRT) training for SU students.

Interim Dean for the School of Pharmacy at SU and project director Penny Shelton said that although the program will be available to all health students, it will be emphasized for those studying nursing, pharmacy and physician assistant studies.

“All these different programs have their own curriculum, so what we’re trying to do is in a co-curricular manner, we’re going to have to create a training workshop,” she said.

The program will even extend to include students outside the health disciplines. Shelton said organizers planned to include students in the Future Stages theater classes to serve as fill-in “patients” when writing the grant application.

Over the next three months, SU faculty will be working to hone the program curriculum down to simultaneously meet SAMHSA standards and suit the needs of the community. After an estimated year of planning and training, students will be prepared to work with health partners in the community to enhance and apply their skills.

Those partners will include local health professionals at locations like Northwestern Community Services, Selma Medical Associates and the various county health departments, and Shelton said there is still plenty of room for the list to grow.

Diane Ricci, manager of Valley Health Behavioral Health Senior Outpatient Behavioral Health Program, said the SBIRT-trained students will help the program address an issue that affects many of the patients her department meets with regularly – one that, in many cases, goes undetected.

“Because we work with the geriatric population, Penny wanted to work with us because of the prevalence of the abuse amongst the elderly,” she said.

According to Lord Fairfax Health District Health Director Charles Devine, the number of deaths due to prescription opioid abuse within the state of Virginia went up 8 percent between 2013 and 2014, making for an average of 1.5 deaths per day. In addition, heroin deaths increased by 12 percent within the state, and numbers so far this year spell an even larger increase in fatalities.

Devine said that while opioid prescription is at times necessary for patients’ pain needs, the initiatives in the SBIRT training help to minimize the risk of abuse within the Lord Fairfax Health District.

“The wonderful opportunity with this grant is that we have the chance here to educate a whole new cohort of care providers and we have the opportunity in an interprofessional sort of way to grow and strengthen the bonds between the university and their students and the health care community in this area,” he said.

Shelton said that after the planning stage is finished, the school will finalize the list of community partners in the next six months and SU students will begin their co-curricular community outreach in the second year of the grant.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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