OU program targets communication, collaboration and improved care
“Hi, I’m Nancy. I’m studying to be a doctor.”
“I’m Jim . I’m going to be a pharmacist.”
It’s not your typical speed dating encounter. While the activity starts much the same, these sessions are not about meeting your future spouse. Instead, they focus on meeting future colleagues across a variety of health professions.
It’s all part of an inter-professional training program at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. The goal is to enhance education for students who plan careers in health, to advance care and to empower patients.
“We are somewhat unique here at the OU Health Sciences Center with so many health profession students of many different disciplines training on the same campus. This allows us to pull students together for this very important training,” said Dale Bratzler, D.O., M.P.H., professor and associate dean of the OU College of Public Health. Bratzler also is part of the core faculty for the inter-professional training programs at OU.
Peggy Wisdom and the Wisdom Family Foundation played an important role in the development of the inter-professional training program at OU.
“I am reminded that we learned in the 20th century that it takes a village to raise a child. Now, in the 21st century, we are learning that it takes inter-professional teams of health care professionals to keep us well when we are still healthy, keep us safe when we are acutely ill or guide us in getting well when we become unhealthy,” Wisdom said.
Inter-professional training at OU launched several years ago with a small pilot project called EPIC – Empowering Patients through Inter-professional Collaboration. Based on the success of that project, the effort has expanded significantly. Now, it provides hundreds of students from diverse health professions with the opportunity to participate..
“Traditionally, health professions education has been provided in discipline-specific silos with limited opportunities for students to interact or learn about and from other disciplines with whom they will need to interact in practice,” said Bratzler.
It’s been more than 10 years since the Institute of Medicine’s committee on health professions noted that while health professionals are often asked to work together in interdisciplinary teams to manage patients with complex health conditions, they are seldom educated together or trained in team-based skills. For the past three years, though, Bratzler and a team of core faculty at the OU Health Sciences Center have worked to change that.
Faculty from the OU Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, Allied Health, Social Work, and Dentistry worked together to create inter-professional learning opportunities that would allow students to work in teams similar to the healthcare teams in which they would work during clinical practice. To date, some of its biggest proponents have been the students themselves.
“I think having a common ground with people from other professions allows you to work more closely and to greater effect than you would if you did not participate in this training,” said Preston Seaburg, a participant in a pilot version of the program. “It was probably the most valuable education experience I had in my whole medical training.”
Students like Seaburg also helped faculty refine the training and expand it.
“During the two years of the EPIC pilot, we were able to develop the educational content that did lend itself to training a large segment of the student body here,” Bratzler said.
Gathering more than 850 students from a variety of health professions was one thing. Introducing them to one another was completely another. And that’s where speed dating comes in. This time, though, the speed-dating exercise is designed to allow students to learn more about each other’s health professions and to begin gaining an appreciation for the work they each will perform to keep their patients healthy and safe.
“This is a communication experience as well as a learning-about-one-another experience. This is an early exercise in helping the ‘team’ develop effective communication skills,” said Martha Ferretti, PT, MPH, FAPTA, who also was a leader in developing the inter-professional training program at the OU.
Bratzler said it’s clear that inter-professional training is here to stay and that it is becoming increasingly important.
“I think it is becoming much more common, and many of the health professions accrediting programs now require this type of activity to be a part of the educational curriculum,” he said.
What if the women at high risk for getting cervical cancer need never fear getting that cancer? A researcher at the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma believes she may have found a way; and with a new $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, she and her team aim to prove it.
Cervical cancer affects about 528,000 women worldwide and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. It’s a cancer that starts with changes in cells of the cervix that are abnormal but not cancerous. The changes, also known as cervical dysplasia, often are triggered by the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million people are currently infected with HPV, and some 14 million are newly infected each year in the United States.
Doris Mangiaracina Benbrook, Ph.D., believes she and colleague researchers have developed a compound that can successfully stop cervical cancer before it even starts in those infected with HPV.
“We developed a non-toxic, orally-bioavailable, small molecule drug called OK-1 and aim to demonstrate its usefulness for treatment of cervical dysplasia and cancer,” Benbrook said. “In a new clinical trial, we aim to see how the drug counteracts the effects of the human papillomavirus.”
Benbrook explained that cancer is not normal evolution for the virus but rather a rare accident. In the natural life cycle of the virus, certain proteins cause the disposal of two key proteins in normal cells of the cervix. Those proteins function as tumor suppressors, meaning they are responsible for regulating cellular DNA replication as well as whether a cell survives or dies, a critical component of the body’s ability to prevent a cell from becoming cancerous.
“We’ve shown in our studies that OK-1 counteracts the effects of the virus proteins on the tumor suppressors, thereby preventing cancer, Benbrook said. “This grant will allow us to test this further in more experimental models and in a clinical trial.”
In addition to delivering the compound in capsule form, she said the team is developing a vaginal suppository formulation to be used in the clinical trial.
“In the United States, a third of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer will die from their disease. Currently, cervical cancer is treated with therapeutic adjuvants like chemotherapy, which have improved survival but are highly toxic and often negatively impact quality of life. So there’s a very real need for the development of effective new treatments, which will improve efficacy or lower treatment-related toxicity or ideally both.”
Benbrook and her team are collaborating with fellow researchers at the Stephenson Cancer Center, the OU Health Sciences Center and MD Anderson Cancer Center.
"Dr. Benbrook’s grant is a testimony to the power of team science being done at the Stephenson Cancer Center, bringing researchers together from a variety of disciplines creating a new drug that holds the promise of helping thousands of women each year just in Oklahoma,” said Robert Mannel, M.D., director of the Stephenson Cancer Center.
Other researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center who will be involved in this work include: Lucilla Garcia-Contreras, Ph.D.; Altaf Mohammed, Ph.D.; C.V. Rao, Ph.D.; Sukyung (Sue) Woo, Ph.D.; Yan (Daniel) Zhao, Ph.D. and Rosemary Zuna, Ph.D.
Last year, Benbrook received a $3 million grant from the NIH for the first-in-human clinical trial of OK-1 in women with ovarian cancer. The cervical cancer research is funded by NIH grant R01 CA200126.
ABOUT THE STEPHENSON CANCER CENTER
Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic cancer center, the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma is a nationally noted leader in research and patient care. The Stephenson Cancer Center annually ranks among the top three cancer centers in the nation for patients participating in National Cancer Institute-sponsored treatment trials, and it is one of 30 designated lead centers nationally in the Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network. In collaboration with the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the Stephenson Cancer Center is decreasing the burden of cancer in Oklahoma by supporting innovative laboratory, clinical and populations-based research. The Stephenson Cancer Center has 200 research members who are conducting more than 165 cancer research projects at institutions across Oklahoma. This research is supported by $41.2 million in annual funding from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other sponsors.
Please note: The content of this news release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.