Community Care Network Provides Positive Outcomes for Students, Patients, Providers
Collaboration between The College of Wooster and Wooster Community Hospital hailed for success
WOOSTER, Ohio, — House calls by doctors have all but disappeared from the American landscape, but students at The College of Wooster are resurrecting a form of that practice through a collaboration with Wooster Community Hospital known as the Community Care Network.
Established in 2013, this blossoming partnership enables students with an interest in medical school and other health-related professions to gain valuable experience while serving as "health coaches" for individuals with medical issues and conditions. Each student is assigned one or two patients whom they visit weekly to encourage healthy living habits, like eating properly, exercising regularly, giving up smoking, and taking their medications as directed. While there, they are trained to observe and report various conditions and concerns. Basically, their role is to persuade their patients to "follow doctor's orders" so they can avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the hospital.
And the results have been quite impressive, according to Carol Sedgwick, who helps to coordinate the program through Wooster's Career Planning Office. "The students are having an impact on the patients they visit," she says. "Many of these people were making multiple visits to the hospital, but those visits are now declining dramatically."
In order to participate in the program, students must take a class taught by a range of health-care professionals from Wooster Community Hospital, including doctors, nurses, dieticians, psychologists, social workers, and even ministers, thus giving students a holistic view of patient care. The class meets for 90 minutes each week, during which students learn about the medical conditions they might encounter and how to properly report that information to medical professionals at the hospital.
The experience gives Wooster students a significant advantage over those from other schools, according to AlexSandra Davis RN, who coordinates the program at the hospital. "Not only are they learning how to take blood sugar readings, blood pressure, and pulse, they are also learning how to administer CPR, and how to recognize and report the signs and symptoms of stroke, heart attack, and acute respiratory problems," she says. "Most medical school students do not begin caring for patients until the second year. Wooster students are doing it as undergraduates."
Health coaches in the program, like Hannah and Kate Redding of nearby Mansfield, are enthusiastic about the opportunity and excited by the benefits it provides. "I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but I changed my focus to behavioral health," says Hannah, a senior neuroscience major. "The health-coach program enables us to sit down and talk to our patients, which I find very helpful. Once patients become comfortable [with their coach], they open up and begin to build trust, which is very beneficial."
Sister Kate, who wants to be a pediatrician, says working with the nurses and doctors is particularly helpful. "They have provided resources that have really contributed to my learning," she says. "Working alongside the professionals is extremely valuable."
Both Reddings believe that the experience will give them an edge in the very competitive battle for admission to medical school. "Having an opportunity to interact with patients while learning from doctors and nurses is a real plus," says Hannah. Kate concurs, adding, "learning to assess and report various medical conditions is huge."
For Leslie Doone, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Findlay, Ohio, the opportunity to see patients outside of the traditional healthcare environment has been particularly valuable. "Working with patients helps you realize why you want to be in this profession," she said. "It is really helpful to see them in their own home and understand why they may not be compliant [in attending to their own needs]."
Patients are also grateful for the benefits of the program. "I have had the best health coaches I could ever ask for," says Virginia Shultz, who works with Hannah on a weekly basis after having had another student (Emily Paulus) the year before. "They have gone above and beyond to help me. They are easy to talk to and very good at figuring out what I need to do [to stay healthy]. I really appreciate all they have done."
Darrel Myers, another participant in the program, was skeptical at first, but during the past year, he has become a major advocate for the program. "It's helped me in a lot of ways," he says. "My health coach (Karan Malani) is a wonderful guy. He keeps track of my blood pressure and makes sure that medicines are right, If anything is wrong, he picks up on it. Knowing that there is someone out there if I need help is very reassuring."
So far, five Wooster students in the program have been accepted to medical school, which comes as no surprise to Davis. "The structure is very beneficial for both the student and the patient," she says. "The students gain experience that prepares them for situations they will face in the medical field; the patients build trust in the students and begin to make changes in their lives.
"Our ultimate goal is to have an impact on the community's health," adds Davis, "and this partnership with the students is an essential part of that objective. They serve as our eyes, ears, and hands, while gaining a real advantage in their efforts to become a professional in the medical field."