Although the number of refugees, recent immigrants, and other underserved individuals is growing in the U.S., many health care professionals receive minimal training on how to interact with and understand the unique health needs of these populations. For the past several years, the OHSU Global Health Center has offered a unique, community-based elective for students of all disciplines to learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams and to develop critical cross-cultural knowledge and understanding. Since 2008, over 300 medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, nutrition, and public health students have completed the interprofessional Community Health and Education Exchange (iCHEE) course and over 1,200 clients have been served by the program. A paper highlighting the successes of the program was published online last month and will appear in print in the Innovation Report section of the August 2014 edition of Academic Medicine.
In addition to serving community members in need, the students who participate in the course are given an opportunity to work with students from different disciplines. Class participants are broken down into teams that are supervised by an OHSU faculty mentor. Each team includes at least one student from the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Dentistry, and the College of Pharmacy. Students interact directly with clients to provide basic health services such as checking eye sight, hearing, blood pressure, oral health, and heart and lung function. Findings are discussed with faculty mentors, and clients who require follow-up treatment are referred to appropriate mobile clinics or other local safety net clinics for treatment.
“By working together, the students are learning about each other’s disciplines,” said Valerie Palmer, an instructor of global health and director of the iCHEE course.
Students’ reactions to the 6-week course have been overwhelmingly positive. To receive credit for the course, students are required to write a reflection at the end of the term that summarizes what they’ve learned from the experience.
One OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy student wrote in the course reflection: “This class has opened my eyes to the problems people are facing in my own backyard and has reinforced my skills needed to provide assistance to anyone I may come into contact with. I know how to look for and offer valuable resources to those in need, including housing, food, clothing and many different types of health care. I have learned valuable communication skills that will help me with my future career. These communication skills not only taught me how to empathize and listen to people needing assistance in my community, but how to collaborate and communicate with other health care professionals.”