Training the next generation of providers

Indiana State is working to bring bright medical minds to rural areas and respond to the industry’s emerging needs.

Healers and caregivers have arguably been the most powerful members of any civilization. They have stood over bedridden kings. They have explored the depths of the human body, down to the genomic level. They have pierced the armor of once unstoppable plagues such as polio and the measles. They have offered reassurance when we needed it and the hard truth when we had to face it.

In fact, in just over a century, our healers and caregivers have together added 30 years to our average lifespans. None of this happened without effort, innovation and leadership. At Indiana State, doctors, medical professionals and instructors are working together on multiple fronts to both transform medicine into a 21st century practice and additionally provide a roadmap for other schools to follow.

One dilemma facing much of Mid-America is the lack of access to quality care. Taihung Duong, an Indiana University professor of anatomy and cellular biology, is confronting this problem head-on as the director and associate dean of the IU School of Medicine-Terre Haute on Indiana State’s campus.

“In the late 1990s,” Duong said, “we asked ourselves: ‘What if we recruited students from rural areas, guided them through four years at Indiana State and then supported them as they progressed to medical school?’”

The results, Duong said, have “paid off” because many rural hospitals now find themselves staffed by native medical providers. Despite the success of the program, few schools around the country have followed the IU-Indiana State lead.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” Duong said. “It’s not just a matter of accepting students and hoping for the best. You have to develop faculty who are willing to spend time with them outside of the classroom. You have to start preparing them for the MCAT from their freshman year.”

Additionally, the program sends prospective care providers to small towns to shadow local doctors and learn to address the common needs respective to individual communities.

“We try to assign students to their home county,” Duong said, “and we rotate them through the critical-access hospitals in these communities so that they can see how the support system works and get acclimated to the staff and people they will one day be working with. The key is that we keep reinforcing the idea that rural practice is very doable, and once people see that the result is very gratifying.”

Indiana State is also turning to the lab, specifically developing ways to transform the discoveries of the Human Genome Project into workable data that can be used by medical caregivers. In conjunction with both President Dan Bradley’s Unbounded Possibilities initiative and the rapidly and increasingly affordable access to genetic sequencing equipment, Indiana State faculty such as Rusty Gonser, professor of biology, saw potential in developing genomics as a field of study.

“What does all of this information mean?” Gonser asked. “How do you communicate it between doctors and patients? We realized that we don’t have the large-scale genomic sequencing labs that the much larger research schools possess, but we do have people in public policy who are interested in health. The Scott College of Business has professors with backgrounds in molecular biology, and we have education faculty with grants from NIH addressing how to teach genomics in the public schools. So we decided to turn our attention to genomic advocacy.”

After establishing the Center for Genomic Advocacy, Gonser and his co-workers began developing a master’s of Genetic Counseling program, which Gonser says will meet an already increasing public demand.

“In the next 10 years,” Gonser said, “genetic counseling is looking at 40 percent to 50 percent job growth. There are jobs that aren’t being filled because there are so few of these programs in the country. As of today, we are only the 33rd school in the nation to have a program such as this one.”

Besides pushing boundaries in emerging fields, Indiana State continues to innovate in traditional medicine as well. Most notable is the continued progress of Indiana State’s nursing program. Emily Cannon, nursing instructor in the College of Health and Human Services, describes her duties as working with traditional 18- to 22-year-olds who go through a program with rigors similar to other institutions. However, with Indiana State’s capstone program, Sycamore nursing students undergo an intensive 100-plus hours of clinical work in their final semester.

“They spend the day with an RN,” Cannon said. “They’re scheduled on the RN’s normal duty time. So, if a student wants to one day work in maternity, and if an RN is working a 12-hour night shift in that department, they will shadow them on their time. Whether they’re working here in Terre Haute or in Indianapolis, what they’re getting is both a hands-on experience and the opportunity to see how their training is actually used in the hospital setting.”

As Cannon explains, perhaps one of the strongest training points of the capstone program is the independence each nursing candidate develops as he or she “swims on their own.”

“I’ve recently picked up a job this summer at the ER in Union Hospital,” Cannon said, “and I get to see first-hand how newly hired RNs who have gone through the capstone program perform. And it’s wonderful to see how beautifully they’re swimming. They’re flexible, they’re adaptable, and I think capstone has been incredibly helpful.”

From the Wabash Valley and beyond, patients can look to the cutting-edge programs at Indiana State and thank those involved for not only their lives, but also very likely the quality of those lives as well.

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