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First-Of-Kind Seminar Teaches Teamwork to Varied Medical Professionals

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CUMC’s Program in Narrative Medicine to Enroll Students from Nursing, Dental, Medical and Public Health Schools in Collaborative Program 

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) announces a new seminar in its Program in Narrative Medicine (PNM). The semester-long discussion provides a more collaborative approach to education with a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary, interprofessional seminar on teamwork in medicine. The program is supported by a $1 million, four-year grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. Four students each from CUMC’s College of Dental Medicine, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Mailman School of Public Health, and the School of Nursing will be the first attendees.

Advances in medical technology, changes in health care delivery, and an aging, ailing population have all made the practice of medicine increasingly dependent on clinical collaboration. Today, most health care students rarely gain exposure to the many other types of specialists, professionals, administrators, or statisticians they will deal with during the course of their career.

The seminar, “The Cultures of Health, Illness, and Health Care,” will engage the 16 students in a collaborative approach to education using team teaching methods to equip the students with the skills to function effectively in multi-disciplinary health care teams. Dr. Rita Charon, Executive Director of CUMC’s Program in Narrative Medicine, is the seminar leader. The course will use the social sciences, population studies, and the arts to develop in students a wide and deep comprehension of health, illness, and care. Skills taught will include understanding and embracing the cultural diversity of patients and co-workers, communicating clearly to patients, families, and other professionals, expressing opinions, knowledge and responsibilities clearly to patients, families and co-workers, and collaborating respectfully with other caregivers to ensure a common understanding.

“After this semester, a nurse will have the confidence and skills to discuss a patient’s fears about a risky treatment with the rest of the medical team. A dental student whose patient is on blood-thinning medication will understand the importance of coordinating care with the internal medicine physician, and be able to frame the conversation appropriately,” says Dr. Charon. “A medical student will know to seek assistance from a nursing assistant about how best to communicate with a patient with little command of English.”

Dr. Charon recently chaired a panel that developed an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) report discussing the importance of the behavioral and social sciences in medical education. One of the report’s conclusions was that understanding how lifestyle, behavior, and economic status affect health­—knowledge that is vital for future physicians. “In addition to medical knowledge, a well-rounded physician must understand the cultural, familial, economic, and demographic factors that affect health and disease,” says AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. “To deliver quality patient-centered care, today’s doctors need to be equipped with effective methods to help people change behavior to optimize health.”

The CUMC program is intended to unify disciplines in a shared University goal—improving health care using the power of the narrative. “The Cultures of Health, Illness, and Health Care” is a follow-up to a 2010 Macy grant that funded a group of senior faculty members from CUMC’s four schools, including associate deans, senior vice presidents, center directors, and full-time clinicians. The group investigated the basic and applied sciences of health care team development in two-hour bimonthly seminar sessions. The result of these meetings is the development of a community of practice which fosters open dialogue and exploratory interdisciplinary work.

“The Cultures of Health, Illness, and Health Care” is the latest offering in CUMC’s Program in Narrative Medicine. The PNM brings together health care professionals, patients, faculty, and researchers in new and exciting ways. Patients are treated more empathetically and have the opportunity to engage more fully with their own care through understanding and articulating it beyond a description of physical symptoms.

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