MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Department of Family Medicine will use a five-year, $948,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to address three key areas in health sciences education: communication, care of the rural and underserved and inter-professional education.

“We are honored to have been selected to receive this grant,” Arthur J. Ross, III, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the WVU School of Medicine, said. “It reflects the confidence HRSA has in our Health Science Center’s faculty to get this important work done and helps us to assure that we can meet our School and Health Sciences Center’s critically important commitment to improve the health and wellness of West Virginians.”

Dorian Williams, M.D., director of student programs for the Department of Family Medicine, said there are several reasons why this grant is important to all of WVU’s health professions schools.

“In order to be accredited, we are required to provide training in communications skills. By providing inter-professional education, we can reduce medical errors and improve outcomes,” Dr. Williams said. “The rural and underserved education track is critically important because we need to get physicians out to where the patients are in the state. This grant will train students to be better prepared to do that.”

The advanced communications skills curriculum will better prepare medical students to understand their patients and to better interact in teams with their colleagues in a more effective way.  The inter-professional team-based curriculum will teach all health professions students how to effectively communicate with each other.

“Communication, in general, is where mistakes are made. As physicians and healthcare providers, we must maintain a constant vigil to make sure we are effectively communicating with our patients and that they understand what we are saying,” Williams said. “West Virginia has one of the lowest health literacy rates in the country. It’s a huge challenge.”

The goal of the primary care rural and underserved education track is to encourage medical students to go into a primary care residency program and ultimately practice in a rural primary care setting. In addition, the track will prepare students to expertly care for patients in this unique setting.

“There are already shortages of primary care providers in many areas of the state, and future projections do not show improvement,” Williams said. “Now is the time to improve recruitment to primary care and properly prepare our graduates to practice in rural, underserved communities.”

Williams added that 65 people from various disciplines and areas of expertise helped secure the grant and will help make the plan a success. Specifically, he noted that Jeannie Sperry, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine, provided her expertise in communication; Gail VanVoorhis, M.S.N., director of the Clinical Practice Lab in the WVU School of Nursing, worked extensively with the inter-professional education piece; and Treah Haggerty, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, brought her first-hand experience with rural medicine to the table.

“This was no small effort to pull together, and I appreciate each and every person who contributed to the success of this grant application,” Williams said. “This wouldn’t have happened without their efforts.”

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 10-07-11