November 1, 2003

When UNT Health Science Center officials and the board members of Dallas Southwest Osteopathic Physicians Inc. began searching for someone to hold the newly endowed DSWOP chair of clinical geriatrics, they soon realized that the best candidate was one of the countryâ??s leading geriatricians, who just happened to be a professor at the health science center.

Janice Knebl, DO, MBA, professor of internal medicine and chief of geriatrics, has been selected to be the Dallas Southwest Osteopathic Physicians Inc. distinguished chair of clinical geriatrics.

â??Dr. Knebl is recognized as one of the countryâ??s leading geriatricians,â? said Marc Hahn, DO, dean of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. â??The program she has built here over the past 15 years now boasts an international reputation for excellence and was ranked as one of the top fellowship programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report.â?

Joseph LaManna, Sr., DO, DSWOP chair, said, â??We think she is absolutely the best choice for the position. We have long been impressed with her work at the health science center, and we know that our support will enable her to accomplish even more in the future.â?

The endowment was created in 2001 when DSWOP pledged $1.2 million, the largest gift in its history, to the health science center. The position holds special significance because it is the first chair in clinical geriatrics at any osteopathic medical school.

â??The majority of patients seen in clinics and hospitals will soon be older than 65,â? Dr. LaManna said. â??The need for clinicians trained in geriatric care will only grow.â?

The endowment is intended to serve as a permanent catalyst for expanded clinical geriatric services to older adults and their caregivers in north Texas. In addition, it allows the health science center to provide expert training and mentoring in geriatrics for medical students, residents and geriatric fellows, Dr. Hahn said.

Caring for seniors comes naturally to Dr. Knebl. She said she has always been comfortable around older people. â??I come from a traditional extended family thatâ??s extremely close-knit. My grandparents were very involved in raising me, and I always spent time around relatives from several generations.â?

She also spent a summer working at a Jersey shore hotel with a largely senior clientele. â??I was surrounded by seniors and enjoyed getting to know them.â?

She said she also began to appreciate the unique knowledge that seniors could share with her. â??I realized that seniors are walking, talking history books. If you just listen to them, youâ??ll learn a lot â?? about the world, about them and about yourself.â?

Later in medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Knebl chose to turn this appreciation for seniors into an avocation and make geriatric care her specialty. â??Everyone thought I was certifiable for choosing such an unpopular specialty.â?

At that time, geriatric care was a relatively new field. Specialized fellowships had been established only a few years earlier, and training opportunities were scarce.

â??I had no role models. I never worked with a trained geriatrician. No one devoted their career to geriatrics,â? she said. â??Thatâ??s all changed.â?

Today, more than 50 fellowships in geriatrics exist across the country, and every medical school requires some geriatric training, she said.

The health science center, one of the first institutions to offer specialized medical training in geriatric care and to conduct research into aging issues, has long been a pioneer in addressing health issues for seniors.In 1994, it established the first geriatric fellowship program in the Dallas-Fort Worth area so that physicians and dentists could receive advanced training in caring for elderly patients. Recently, the program was expanded to include psychologists.

Dr. Knebl said she has a vision for how to use the endowment to upgrade the schoolâ??s work in geriatrics.â??DSWOPâ??s generosity enables us to expand our training opportunities and further develop our clinical research program,â? she said.

Dr. Knebl has set her sights on establishing a required rotation in geriatric medicine for fourth-year medical students. Geriatrics is now one of several elective rotations students choose from as they train in internal medicine.

â??Every student would have interdisciplinary exposure to geriatric care. They would have training in geriatrics from staff trained in the specialty,â? she said.

The health science center has one of the few geriatric clinics where physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, social workers and other clinical staff have been specially trained to deal with the issues faced by aging patients, she said. â??Students become part of a team approach to caring for our patients and develop an appreciation for other health professionals.â?

She would like for students to be more exposed to seniors throughout their years in medical school. â??A lot of your career choices are affected by what youâ??re exposed to. With the decrease in extended families, young people may spend less time around older generations and not realize the issues seniors face.â?

Dr. Knebl would also like to use the endowment to expand applied clinical research in geriatrics. The clinic staff already participates in clinical trials to evaluate new therapies for chronic illnesses, especially Alzheimerâ??s disease and other causes of dementia, but she said research is an often-overlooked area that can dramatically improve patientsâ?? lives.

â??New therapies can make such a difference in older patients,â? she said. â??We try to help them maintain their level of function for as long as possible so they can remain independent.â?

The endowment is one of many ways DSWOP has demonstrated its support of the health science center. Previous gifts totaling $1.2 million have supported loans and scholarships to medical students and funded the Professional and Continuing Education office.

â??DSWOP continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to UNT Health Science Center,â? Dr. LaManna said. â??With this gift, weâ??ve more than doubled the amount of support weâ??ve provided to the health science center over the years.â?

DSWOP, a non-profit organization, was established with proceeds from the 1983 sale of Stevens Park Osteopathic Hospital. It has since distributed more than $13 million in grants to more than 150 organizations.


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