MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Patricia Chase, Ph.D., dean of the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, is a big fan of the saying “practice what you preach.” She believes that healthcare professionals, be they pharmacists, physicians or dentists, should model the behaviors they prescribe to their patients.

For that reason, she is spearheading the establishment of the WVU Center for Healthy Practitioners, which will train students in the WVU schools of Pharmacy, Medicine and Dentistry in an inter-professional disease prevention model based on personal behavior change. With this education, students will be able to effectively educate and influence their future patients.

The Center for Healthy Practitioners will build off of the School of Pharmacy’s My First Patient program, which Dr. Chase implemented in 2006. The program begins with all first-year Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students undergoing health screening and counseling aimed at improving their health status in the School’s Health Education Center. Each student identifies a goal that he or she wishes to achieve, such as losing weight, beginning an exercise plan, or quitting smoking. In doing so, the students become their own first patients.

“The My First Patient program has uncovered at least seven major health risks experienced by students in the program, including diabetes, high cholesterol, tobacco use, obesity, stress behaviors and alcohol and drug abuse. These mirror the major health problems of the people of West Virginia,” Chase said. “Students have achieved definite, measurable improvements in their health habits and in their actual health, as measured by follow-up cholesterol testing and other clinical factors.”

In order to expand the program to the other two schools, WVU has received a $75,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. With the grant, 265 first-year students – 115 medical students, 90 pharmacy students and 60 dental students – will participate in the program.

Students will choose one health goal, develop an action plan to improve their health in that area, implement the plan and evaluate the plan through a year-end survey. Follow-up surveys will be administered during all subsequent years students are in school to determine whether students met their goal in the first year, whether he or she has maintained the changes made in the first year and whether the student’s participation in the program affected their attitude toward an interdisciplinary approach to wellness.

“By completing this program, they will go into the clinical phases of their training and into practice with an enhanced understanding, experience and commitment to the importance of modifying lifestyle factors to accomplish a healthier life and an improved ability to influence their patients’ behaviors,” Chase said.

David Felton, D.D.S., M.S., dean of the WVU School of Dentistry, and Arthur Ross, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the WVU School of Medicine, believe this program is a perfect fit for their respective schools.

“The WVU dental students have, for decades, learned the basics of becoming competent dental providers, as well as how to train patients to improve their oral health. To have the opportunity to participate in this screening program and have their own personal health assessed, as well as to provide this input about the significance of optimum oral health to incoming Medical and Pharmacy students, is unique in dental education,” Dr. Felton said. “We are extremely excited to be a participant in what we believe is a landmark program in academic healthcare.”

“Inter-professional education experiences are a very important component of the way we are training the next generation of West Virginia’s healthcare providers,” Dr. Ross said. “It only makes sense that they will learn and practice healthy lifestyles together, too.”

Eventually, Chase’s goal is to bring the remaining health professions schools and programs on board so that all students in the Health Sciences Center are participating.

Anne Cather, M.D., from the School of Medicine, Travis White from the School of Pharmacy, Louise Veselicky, D.D.S., from the School of Dentistry, and Matthew Gurka, Ph.D., from the School of Public Health, are serving as co-investigators on the project’s development, implementation and evaluation.

“By doing this, we will not only serve our students, we will also serve the many West Virginians for whom they will care throughout their years of practice,” Chase said. “Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ By incorporating this into our curriculum, we will perpetuate this positive change for generations to come.”

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation is an independent foundation established in 1944 by Michael and Sarah Benedum, natives respectively of Bridgeport and Blacksville, W.Va. Since its inception, the Foundation has authorized grants totaling more than $395 million in support of specific initiatives in the areas of education, economic development, health and human services and community development.
For more information: Angela Jones-Knopf, News Service Coordinator, 304-293-7087
ajk: 01-31-13