Published: Aug. 21, 2014

Breaking down barriers to improve patient health

Contact(s): Sarina Gleason Media Communications office: (517) 355-9742, Jill Vondrasek College of Nursing office: (517) 353-8742

Nursing, osteopathic medicine and pharmacy graduate students at Michigan State University and Ferris State University will be learning about each other’s specialties to expand their knowledge and bring better care to a rapidly growing patient population.

Kathy Dontje, an assistant professor in MSU’s College of Nursing, is helping to lead efforts on effectively managing care for patients, specifically those with multiple chronic conditions and mental health issues. Students across disciplines will learn how to manage this complex level of care by working in teams to help them become more effective health practitioners.

“Each health profession often has worked in their own silos, communicating in their own languages, and not even really knowing what the other related professions do,” Dontje said, who is also the director of Graduate Clinical Programs for the college. “This program looks to break down these barriers and improve patient care in a collaborative setting at the most efficient cost.”

Dontje recently was awarded a three-year, more than $736,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant will support developing a curriculum that enhances the educational experiences of students and provides a common, competency-focused, knowledge base for future practice.

Often referred to as interprofessional education, the new curriculum will build on the premise of team-based care and will include both simulated and real-world clinical experiences for graduate students. Disciplines included are family, adult gerontology and acute care clinical nursing, nurse anesthesia, family medicine, psychiatry and pharmaceutical.

“We’re all working toward the same goal in improving patient health,” Dontje said. “Working as a team is a much more efficient way of doing this, especially since we’re seeing more and more older adults with chronic and mental health conditions.”

Current estimates from the Census Bureau project the United States population growing by 9.5 percent by 2025, with the population ages of 65 and older increasing by 45 percent. With this particular demographic on the rise, medical and public health professionals expect to see a continual increase in patients suffering from more than one health issue.

“We need to make sure we develop a diverse, well-trained group of health care practitioners as they enter the real world,” Dontje said. “Patients that have conditions like diabetes, cancer and depression all at once are becoming the norm and it is up to our future health care professionals to tackle these issues the best way possible.”

Additional MSU collaborators include Kathleen Poindexter, coordinator of the Clinical Nurse Specialty program; Gayle Lourens, assistant director of the Nurse Anesthesia program; and Deborah Young and Rosemarie Tolson, both assistant professors in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Kathy Dontje is an assistant professor in MSU's College of Nursing and is also the director of its Graduate Clinical Programs.

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