DANBURY — As a student in Western Connecticut State University’s counseling program, Shaniqua Dillard’s expertise is in mental health.
But a program offered at the university on Monday helped Dillard learn she will need to collaborate closely with nurses and medical doctors to better help patients.
Through a simulation where she and a nurse practitioner student helped a patient with signs of addiction, Dillard said became aware of how the medical side affects her patients.
“It wasn’t my speciality because I don’t know the medical side of things, and my partner did,” said Dillard, who is in her second year in the university’s clinic mental health counseling program.
She was one of about 80 students from the counseling, nurse practitioner and undergraduate nursing programs to participate in an exercise that was meant to bring these three disciplines together, not just at the university, but in the health care field.
This was the first time students participated in this type of exercise. The entire concept is new, with the counseling program only recently emphasizing the importance of integration of care in the classroom, said Gabriel Lomas, a professor and coordinator of clinical mental health counseling at the university.
“Everyone was really trained to work in a silo,” he said. “That’s kind of how even our health care system is to a degree today, where people are specialized and they work in silos. What we’re trying to do is break down those silos of specialization and show how collaboration can improve patient care.”
A $2 million grant the university received in 2017 helped pay for the program. This grant encourages the integration of behavioral health with primary care to reduce the stigma of mental health and better help patients, Lomas said.
Few other universities focus on this kind of integration.
“It really is cutting edge,” Lomas said. “West Conn is ahead of the curve.”
During the simulations, undergraduate nursing students pretended to be patients with severe back pain seeking refills on their medication. The counseling and nurse practitioners worked together to treat the distressed patients.
The students were encouraged to ask open-ended questions and to be understanding, not judgmental.
This was key to getting through to patients, said Kevin Jimenez, who is studying to be a nurse practitioner.
“It worked well,” he said. “We wanted to put ourselves in the situation.”
Matilda Dean, a junior nursing student, said she appreciated watching the older students model how to assess a patient and to understand what it is like to be a patient herself.
“It was interesting to be on the other side,” she said.
The scenario focused on addiction because it is a growing problem in the community, Lomas said.Read Full Article
“There is really a demand for everybody that sees patients (to be) trained and we can address those issues as early as possible,” he said.
These scenarios — where a team of professionals with different expertises collaborate — are commonplace at the Community Health Center in Danbury, said Dariush Fathi, a clinical psychologist and behavioral health director of the health center.
“We are all providing a holistic approach to care,” said Fathi, one of the guest speakers at the event.
This is because mental health issues exacerbate other medical problems, such as diabetes or cancer, Fathi said. Patients might not listen to their doctors if they are depressed, for example, he said.
Collaboration also helps patients get the mental health care they need sooner and allows experts to develop better programs, he said.
“When you’re on a team with someone from a different speciality, you can find creative and new ways to help patients,” Fathi said.
Through the simulations, students said they realized they cannot simply focus on one side of care when treating patients.
“You need to treat them as a whole person,” said Laura Gaynor, a junior nursing student.