New Nursing Program Seeks to Improve Care for Underserved Patients

A team of interdisciplinary GW faculty was recently awarded $2.8 million to develop curriculum on social determinants of health and telehealth technology.

August 13, 2019

By Kristen Mitchell

A collaborative team of George Washington University faculty was recently awarded $2.8 million to develop a curriculum that will prepare primary care nurse practitioner students to better care for underserved patients in both rural and urban communities.

The four-year Health Resources and Services Administration grant will enable the university to launch the Nurse Practitioner Technology Enhanced Community Health (NP-TECH) program this fall, which will educate 64 nurse practitioner students on social determinants of health while using telehealth and other digital health technologies to facilitate patient engagement and improve access to care for people living in both rural and urban underserved communities.

Social determinants of health relate to the conditions of a person’s life — such as access to healthy foods, transportation options and income level. These social factors can be unrelated to any diagnosis but could have more of an impact on health than any other factor, said Christine Pintz, a professor in the School of Nursing and principal investigator on the grant.

“It used to be that we were primarily concerned about the medical condition, the diagnosis and treatment of these illnesses, but what we find is that if we don’t consider those other factors, we’re not going to be able to treat that person effectively,” Dr. Pintz said. “We are teaching our students to look at the patient holistically, what are the factors that can influence their health, and then working on understanding the strategies that can be used to help people in those circumstances.”

Once equipped with these skills, nurse practitioners will be better able to provide high-quality care to patients in underserved communities who might have chronic health issues or lack access to care.

GW’s Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice are distance-learning programs. Starting this fall enrolled students will be able to apply to the NP-TECH program, and each year 16 students will be selected. The curriculum will focus on social determinants of health and how to incorporate digital and telehealth technology—tools that can be used to provide care at a distance—into their practice.

Laurie Posey, associate professor at GW Nursing, is overseeing the instructional design and working with team members to develop the curriculum. The NP-TECH scholars will have clinical training in their local communities under the guidance of trained primary care providers. The curriculum will include virtual seminars focused on focused on different topics like reducing health disparities and remotely monitoring chronic conditions using digital and telehealth technologies. The virtual seminars will adapt a model developed by the University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO, which uses videoconferencing to bring experts and community providers together to focus on varied healthcare topics.

“We will engage the students in a dialogue where they bring real-world problems to the table,” Dr. Posey said. “It’s an experiential learning approach where students and experts share ideas and solve clinical problems collaboratively.”

The program will include an immersive experience at GW where students will receive hands-on experience working with telehealth equipment under the guidance of Neal Sikka, associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of the Innovative Practice and Telemedicine Section at GW Medical Faculty Associates. Also working on the NP-TECH program are Sandra Davis, associate professor and assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at GW Nursing; Tony Yang, professor and health services and policy researcher at GW Nursing; Sherrie Wallington, assistant professor at GW Nursing; and Karen Lewis, adjunct associate professor of medicine and director of the Clinical Learning and Simulation Skills (CLASS) Center at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

This new program is critical to improving community-based care because when students are introduced to the concepts of social determinants of health and have experience working with underserved patients and communities, they are more likely to choose to continue this work after graduation, Dr. Pintz said. One goal of the program is to connect students with employment opportunities in these communities.

“If there are opportunities for them to be linked to job opportunities in those areas while in school, they are more likely to go into those areas,” she said. “We want to give them the tools to stay in their community and to be able to improve the health of that community.”

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