UAB students learn collaboration while serving community health needs



By Jennifer Lollar

Working in a community screening program at Birmingham’s Avondale Elementary School, fourth-year University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) dental student Jake Nolen got to see something on a five-year-old girl he had only seen in a textbook — a condition called germination, where one tooth looks like two teeth fused together.

Nolen made a note on her records for someone to follow up with her parents. It is important they watch the tooth carefully to make sure it comes out correctly and does not cause issues when her permanent teeth begin to come in. Nolen also used this as a teaching moment for others; he showed nursing, optometry, medicine and physician-assisting students what this and other dental issues look like.

“My dental students are able to look in the mouth for things like large cavities or where teeth are developing abnormally,” said Stephen Mitchell, D.M.D., director of predoctoral pediatric dentistry at the UAB School of Dentistry. “Not only are they able to identify issues to benefit the child, but they can show their medical, optometry or nursing colleagues what something looks like so everyone will be able to identify those issues their own practices.”

Nolen, along with more than 20 other UAB students from five disciplines, participated in a health screening as part of an interdisciplinary program in UAB’s undergraduate and graduate professional schools. The UAB School of Dentistry, in partnership with the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Professions and Optometry, received a $150,000 renewal grant through the DentaQuest Foundation in late 2012 to continue a pilot program designed to train health-care students to work collaboratively and recognize when they should make referrals to other professions.

The UAB School of Dentistry, in partnership with the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Health Professions and Optometry, received a $150,000 renewal grant through the DentaQuest Foundation in late 2012 to continue a pilot program designed to train health-care students to work collaboratively and recognize when they should make referrals to other professions.

“The project allows us to conduct free, school-based and childcare center-based health screenings for children in selected Birmingham schools and the surrounding area,” said the grant’s principal investigator, Conan Davis, D.M.D., director of community collaborations at the UAB School of Dentistry. “Students are the most impressionable while in their professional training. We think it’s important for them to learn how and when to collaborate, and when it’s necessary to refer, as well as to know what they are looking for on a very basic level. This will help all of the disciplines better serve their patients when they go out into the real world.”

Instructors from the different UAB schools meet with the students on the morning of each screening and tell them what to expect, as well as communicate what they should convey to each other in the screening event. Teams of students from each school are assigned tasks: record children’s weight and height; check their blood pressure; examine their ears, noses and throats; listen to their hearts for any murmurs; check their lungs; look at their musculoskeletal systems to check for scoliosis; and perform vision or dental screenings.

“As they are examining children and see things that could present health issues, we teach them to point those out to their colleagues in other fields so everyone can recognize the issue down the road,” Davis said. “We also hope by doing this that they become comfortable enough to pick up the phone in their future practice and consult with a colleague in another field.”

Mitchell said that while the concept of interprofessional collaboration is nothing new, it has taken education a little while to catch up.

“I think this has been going on for years in our small towns,” he said. “The pharmacist knows the doctor, who knows the dentist, and they talk about issues while playing golf. That sort of model has been going on forever; we’re catching up in education so students have a little more formal exposure to it.”

Alyssa Stutts, a fourth-semester nursing student at the UAB School of Nursing, said learning to work with her fellow health-care providers will serve her well whether she chooses to work in a community setting or a hospital setting.

“This is a good way to learn how to work with everyone, because when you get a job and you’re in the hospital, you’re working with doctors and other team members taking care of patients,” she said. “It’s good to learn to build those relationships now before you are thrown into a job and need to have those skills to communicate with other professionals.”

Stutts added that she hopes the kids get as much from these screenings as she and her colleagues.

“If we can instill good health behaviors in them while they’re children, it betters their outcomes for their adult life,” she said.

Mitchell said building interprofessional relationships is definitely a win-win for patients and health-care providers.

“I don’t expect a medical doctor to be able to do a detailed dental exam, or a dentist to be able to do a detailed medical exam,” he said. “But, if a dentist can identify an issue that needs to be looked into further, we’re able to screen and treat more efficiently and effectively. That benefits the patient and helps us manage health-care costs.”

Davis said there will be one screening per month through the school year as part of the project. Several outside partners are helping to coordinate the screening events, including Sight Savers America’s Alabama KidCheckPlus, United Way of Central Alabama Success by 6, the Jefferson County Department of Health and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Davis added that Kid Check follows up with the children and their parents after the screening to answer any questions or make referrals to health-care providers.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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