UTHealth geriatric education program turns students into ombudsmen

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Members of the “Geri-Advocates” present their team’s project, which won UTHealth’s 2011 Houston Geriatric Education Center Interdisciplinary Student Team Competition. A total of 52 students from Houston universities were certified as Harris County Long-Term Care ombudsmen as part of this year’s competition.

Members of the “Geri-Advocates” present their team’s project, which won UTHealth’s 2011 Houston Geriatric Education Center Interdisciplinary Student Team Competition. A total of 52 students from Houston universities were certified as Harris County Long-Term Care ombudsmen as part of this year’s competition.

HOUSTON – (June 10, 2011) – When second-year medical school student Amanda Cernosek stepped through the door of a local nursing home, it marked the first time she had ever been inside one. For geriatric educators at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), her step advanced their quest to bring together the healthcare workers of the future and the growing group of patients who will need their help most.

Cernosek, who attends the UTHealth Medical School, and 51 other students from multiple Houston healthcare and university institutions recently became certified as Harris County Long-Term Care (LTC) ombudsmen through UTHealth’s innovative 2011 Houston Geriatric Education Center (H-GEC) Interdisciplinary Student Team Competition.

 “This can really help eradicate the age distance and these students did the competition because they wanted to, not because they were getting credit,” said Carmel B. Dyer, M.D., co-director of the H-GEC and professor and chair of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School.

The competition is one component of a bold drive by the H-GEC to train a wide range of students in the care of geriatric patients, who have unique needs, and to teach students the value of interdisciplinary and collaborative teamwork. It recently received first place in the Innovations Awards at the 7th Annual Innovations in Health Science Education Conference sponsored by The University of Texas Academy of Health Science Education.

Nationwide, the number of geriatricians has fallen by 22 percent since 2000. According to a May Institute of Medicine report, there will be 8,000 geriatricians by 2030, far short of the 36,000 it estimates will be needed to cover the workload created by a huge wave of aging baby boomers. Shortages of geriatric nurses are equally dire.

Cernosok doesn’t know yet what she might want to specialize in, but she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to broaden her education. “This was a window into geriatrics and now I’m looking forward to my third-year rotation in geriatrics. I could spend all day at the nursing home talking to people,” said Cernosek, “It made me take a broader view of how we can take care of people, from their medical problems to social problems to physical therapy.” UTHealth has one of the few medical schools in the country with mandatory training in geriatric medicine.

The competition teams included students from UTHealth, Texas Woman’s University and the University of Houston from the disciplines of biomedical informatics, biomedical sciences, dentistry, dental hygiene, health law and policy, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, public health, social work and speech-language pathology. The 14 disciplines mark the most ever represented in an H-GEC competition.

All team members visited long-term care (LTC) facilities in the Houston area that are part of the Harris County Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program housed in the Center on Aging at the UTHealth School of Nursing.  Ombudsmen are advocates who identify, investigate and resolve individual and system-level complaints that affect residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They serve as the eyes and ears of the resident’s family and help to solve issues that residents may be having with the facilities in which they live.

During their 20-minute presentations that included video presentations, original artwork and pop culture references, each team reported findings made during their visits with residents and offered ideas on quality-of-life and facility improvements for residents, residents’ families and staff. The teams solved health literacy concerns, ethical dilemmas and facility resource needs.

The H-GEC is one of 45 Geriatric Education Centers in the country funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the H-GEC is to address issues of safety, medical care, economic and social support and disaster preparedness for all vulnerable older adults, particularly those in medically underserved communities. The principal investigator is Dyer, the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Chair in Gerontology at the medical school. The co-principal investigator is Sharon K. Ostwald, Ph.D., R.N., professor and Isla Carroll Turner Chair in Gerontology Nursing at the school of nursing. The H-GEC is part of the UTHealth Consortium on Aging, a multidisciplinary group that includes faculty and researchers from across the university.

In the 2011 H-GEC Interdisciplinary Student Team Competition, “The Geri-Advocates” emerged victorious over the “Geriatric Reconnaissance Ombudsmen” and the “SCRUBS” (Students Collaborating with Residents to Uphold and Build Self-Determination).

But in truth, geriatric patients of the future were the real winners.

Deborah Mann Lake
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030