Shortening distance with technology
Texas A&M University Health Science Center has a geographically dispersed model, with campuses in eight cities and towns around Texas. Technology can make the distance between these campuses seem shorter. Joy Alonzo, M. Engineering, PharmD, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, teaches pediatric pharmacotherapy at two campuses—simultaneously—separated by approximately 270 miles, one in Kingsville and the other in College Station, Texas.
“If we want to connect with all of our students, we have to capitalize on technology, as our Health Science Center has campus locations across the state,” Alonzo said. “Thinking outside the box helps us draw in all of our clinical assets. Teleconference and prerecording technology help us present information from health care providers and from other students to help us better learn from each other, even when we’re in different cities.”
For example, Alonzo asked six College of Medicine students to lecture in her pharmacy class about pediatric dermatological issues. The medical students spoke via teleconference from their clinical rotation site in Bryan, Texas, to pharmacy students in both Kingsville and College Station.
“The presentation focused on the problem from the family physician’s perspective, asking pharmacy students to be aware of possible over the counter medication needed and therapeutic options to help the physician,” Alonzo said.
Alonzo has featured nurse practitioners, physicians, psychologists, and social workers as guest lecturers, to provide students an interdisciplinary perspective on health care.
“The advantage is being able to record health care experts at different sites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical centers across the state,” Alonzo said. “The guest lecturers don’t have to take time off work to provide a lecture in the classroom during class time, and the students benefit from their specialized up-to-date expertise and knowledge.”
This also allows practicing clinical experts more opportunities to present to students, because of the reduced travel time and time away from the hospital or clinic. Several of the lecturers in the pediatric pharmacotherapy course are former Health Science Center graduates who have become specialized, residency trained professionals across the United States. For example, Reid Grobe, PharmD, provides cutting-edge pediatric pharmacy care in Alaska, while Angela Ngyuen, PharmD, coordinates clinical services for 8 critical access mental and behavioral hospitals across Texas, and Robert Hunter, MD, FASAM, provides telehealth counseling to children throughout central Texas.
Alonzo’s approach lays the foundation for students to embrace interprofessional education, which she says can strengthen health systems and outcomes. If team training in educational programs matches that of medical practices, there will be no gap in teamwork skills for those students entering the workforce.
“For higher learning institutions to prepare students for success, interprofessional education is essential, and technology plays a vital role in achieving this,” Alonzo said. “The end goal is for students to learn from each other, and in a geographically dispersed institution, it’s through technology that scholars, students and researchers are connected.”
Alonzo plans to continue building on education that overlaps health science disciplines. “We can support each other as a team; utilizing each other’s knowledge has huge future implications,” she said. “If we are educated in silos it’s difficult for different professions, such as those in pharmacy, nursing, psychiatric support services, public health and social services, to understand how we can work together. We need an overlap in training so we can wrap around care.”