Students from many fields learn older patients’ needs

More than 800 health professions students from North Texas universities learned to enhance older patients’ safety through better communication during two days of activities at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

Although the event had been planned for months, it was especially timely, said David Farmer, PhD, Director of Interprofessional Education at UNTHSC.

"A crisis such as the Ebola infections in Dallas emphasizes the criticality of communication," he said.

For Anthony Nguyen, a first-year pharmacy student, the UNTHSC exercise was a first.

"My education so far hadn’t teamed me up with people pursuing careers in other health care fields," said Nguyen, who is pursuing a PharmD degree in the UNT System College of Pharmacy on the UNTHSC campus. "It’s good to learn to talk to each other."

In one of several sessions, students worked in interprofessional groups of eight to 10 that included pharmacy, medicine, public health, physician assistant studies and physical therapy from UNTHSC; nursing from the TCU Harris College of Nursing; and dietetics from Texas Woman’s University. The groups rotated through stations where they worked hands-on with such geriatric issues as falls risks, cognitive impairment, multiple medications and functional impairments such as arthritis, deafness and vision problems.

Donning awkward work gloves, Vaseline-smeared eyeglasses and earplugs to simulate old-age limitations, the students attempted to button a shirt, read a prescription label and load a weekly pill dispenser.

"You really learn what it’s like when you have to do it," said Ayeshi Irani, a first-year student in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Discussing actions to take in specific situations, such as when a patient mentions a medication error, Martha Rew, TWU Dietetic Internship Director, emphasized that a dietitian should share the information with every member of the patient’s health care team – nurse, physician and others.

Other sessions also involved TCU students of social work, athletic training and speech language pathology.

Communication among health care providers in various fields is crucial to preventing medical mistakes and improving patient safety. That’s why UNTHSC is partnering with other universities and community organizations to provide extraordinary interprofessional education.   

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