Filomena Flores, 91, recently welcomed a group of USC students into her home. Though her visitors represented seven different professional programs across the university — dentistry, medicine, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant practice and social work — they arrived as a team.
Under the guidance of an accompanying faculty mentor, this was the first in a series of meetings aimed at teaching students to work collaboratively as they dealt with the health issues facing Flores and identified ways the could improve her care.
In a bid to accelerate optimal patient outcomes, schools across the university work together to provide USC students with the education and experiences needed to become experts both in their own fields while collaborating with other specialists. The Interprofessional Geriatrics Curriculum (IPGC) — the program that brought the students to Flores’ home — achieves that while helping low-income senior citizens suffering from chronic illness.
“Comprehensive geriatric care is best given by an interprofessional team,” said Jo Marie Reilly, co-director of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Primary Care Community Medicine Program.
“It’s also a great way to teach students how to function on an interprofessional team, and to understand the expertise from each discipline and how they inform each other,” added Brad Williams, professor at the USC School of Pharmacy.
Reilly and Williams are among the IPGC faculty mentors who advise students as they prepare to interact with patients and obtain the information necessary to create a management plan that meets the multilayered health needs of the elderly.
Phuu Pwint Han, assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, described the IPGC as “our future health care model.”
Other faculty members spearheading the program include Ashley Halle, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy, and Maria Aranda, associate professor of social work.
Like the other schools at USC, the Ostrow School provides a number of off-campus opportunities for interdisciplinary care, including service at the Hollenbeck Palms Skilled Nursing Facility, the Union Rescue Mission and the JWCH Institute’s Center for Community Health Downtown.
“Medical care is now too complex to be handled by just one provider,” said gerontologist Freddi Segal-Gidan, assistant clinical professor in the Primary Care Physician Assistant Program at the Keck School of Medicine.
Segal-Gidan also mentors students assigned to clinical rotations at the USC-affiliated Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, where she serves as a staff physician associate. She said students enjoy “getting to know each other as future health professionals and developing not only an understanding of their various roles but also personal connections that they can use beyond the IPGC.”
Pharmacy student Brian Chou agreed.
“This is really a great way to understand what other professions provide,” he said. “Each team member is able to elicit certain information that pertains to their respective profession, which collectively reveals pertinent medical and occupational issues.”
IPGC is one of many programs at USC supplying students with firsthand understanding of the importance of cross-disciplinary teamwork and the value each specialty brings to patient care.
“All health professions are pushing toward the interdisciplinary care team model,” Han said, “and it is now a teaching requirement for most of us.”
The program’s benefits go far beyond the invaluable professional preparation it provides.
“We’re reaching out to some of our most vulnerable citizens here,” said Cheryl Resnik, associate chair and director of community outreach for the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. “These students’ service to the community gives them an education nearly as vital as the techniques of working together to optimize people’s health.”
As students completed their first session with Flores, one of the many elderly and disabled people helped by IPGC over the past year, she held the hands of two team members.
“I look forward to our next meeting,” she said.