Examining Wyoming kids' teeth and other dilemmas

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Examining Wyoming kids' teeth and other dilemmas

Health sciences students, faculty meet for fifth exercise in collaborative problem-solving.
Steve Steinberg

When medical student Jory Wasserburger served a rotation in a Wyoming family physician’s office last year, the doctor wondered about the high number of child patients who had untreated tooth decay. He asked Wasserburger to look into the problem and brainstorm some community strategies.

On Tuesday, Wasserburger got a little help – from more than 600 fellow UW health sciences students.

The students met at six campus sites in the fifth exercise of the new Foundations of Interprofessional Practice curriculum. The six-session, yearlong series, which began last fall, gathers students and faculty members from across the health sciences schools for problem-solving exercises. The purpose is to improve healthcare delivery through better collaboration.

Steve Steinberg
From left, Traci Mo, Christina Tolley, Mitch Tan, Meghan Moorhead and Elizabeth Rodgers became a team Tuesday.
A group of health sciences students problem-solves during an exercise

Students break into small groups, each with representatives from medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, public health and social work. They tackle a real-life health scenario and develop approaches to patient care and public health.

“The goal is to give them the chance to work together,” said Sarah Shannon, associate professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the School of Nursing, who led the two-hour session at South Campus Center.

“Yes, they learn content. Yes, they learn skills. But the most important thing is that they learn how to work as teams on important health problems.”

Students analyzed the Wyoming scenario and identified contributing factors. They devised community-based approaches to pediatric tooth decay and even learned how to apply fluoride varnish, a sticky but effective anti-cavity treatment.

Some of their strategies were novel: “Fluoridate all the Coca-Cola,” one group suggested, tongue in cheek. Other recommendations, however, were carefully considered:

  • Add dental screenings to well-child exams by pediatricians.
  • Add oral health to general medical histories and charts.
  • Remove high-sugar snacks from school vending machines and enlist school nurses to apply fluoride varnish.
  • Put warning labels on milk and juice boxes about how those drinks can increase the risk of tooth decay.

During lively discussions in the individual groups, students applied their own experiences to solving the problem. Nursing student Elizabeth Rodgers, who has helped teach good health habits at Boys & Girls Clubs, talked about effective ways to reach children with messages.

Steve Steinberg
From left are Christian Okafor, Sandra Carroll and Traci Mo. (Click for full image.)
Health sciences students Christian Okafor, Sandra Carroll and Traci Mo meet

“Keep it short,” she told her group partners. “Have fun. Play games. Make it as hands-on as possible. They like pictures, too.”

At another table, physician assistant student Michael Fleming raised a different problem: “The problem with kids – you can educate them until you’re blue in the face, but then Mom goes to the grocery store and puts junk in the cart. What are you going to do?”

In addition to group discussions, students watched brief video presentations from Joel Berg, dean of the School of Dentistry, and Noel Chrisman, professor of psychosocial and community health in the School of Nursing. Berg, past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry,  discussed pediatric oral health, while Chrisman talked about successful community-based approaches in the Seattle area, including dental screenings for kindergartners.

The academic year’s final exercise, in early spring, will tackle post-deployment care for veterans.

The Foundations series is part of the UW’s Interprofessional Education Initiative, a team approach to teaching and delivering healthcare, which began in 2012. The program seeks to advance the “triple aim” promoted by the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement:

  • Improving the patient experience of care
  • Improving the health of populations
  • Reducing the cost of health care