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Preparing Healthcare Professionals
To Better Serve People with Disabilities

Kenneth Robey, Ph.D., director of the
Matheny Institute for Research.

There’s a huge healthcare disparity between people with developmental disabilities and people without disabilities, according to Kenneth Robey, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Research at Matheny.  At the same time, Dr. Robey says, “healthcare training programs at  medical schools, nursing schools, dental schools and pharmacy schools have done very little to prepare primary care healthcare professionals to serve people with disabilities.”  That, he says, was part of the impetus that led Gary Eddey, MD, Matheny’s chief medical officer, to start relationships with medical schools.  Currently, third-year medical students at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School rotate through Matheny to learn how to care for patients with disabilities.

While Matheny has developed some interesting ways to work with and educate medical students about patients with disabilities, both Dr. Robey and Dr. Eddey decided a few years ago to explore what was being in done in this field by other institutions.  “We looked at the literature to see what else was going on around the country in medical schools,” Dr. Robey says, “and we saw there were other folks trying to develop strategies as well but completely in isolation.  They were not sharing their programs or collaborating.  So, we thought it might be a good idea to gather together as many people as possible at one time and one place to share with each other what they were doing – what strategies they were using, what worked, what didn’t work.  We thought this might possibly spark some collaborations.”

So, in 2007, Dr. Robey sent out invitations to a meeting to anyone he thought might fit this description.  “We sent out 30 or 40 invitations, and 12 people agreed to come, which I think was astounding.  Most of them were from the East Coast, but there was one person from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Purdue University and a graduate student from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.”  This informal meeting was the genesis for what eventually became the Alliance for Disability in Health Care Education, incorporated with
501 (c) 3 status.  That initial meeting had a full agenda with several discussion topics.  “The first piece of it,” Dr. Robey remembers, “was for each person to give a brief presentation of what they were doing.  That was just so fascinating and captivating to everyone in the room that it ended up taking the whole day.”

The group decided to keep a dialog going by having one telephone call a month, and that developed into an annual meeting at Tufts University Medical School in Boston.  “We developed such a synergy and sense of camaraderie and common purpose,” Dr. Robey says, “that it evolved into the organization.”  Dr. Robey served as president of the organization in 2010 and 2011, relinquishing that post January 1 of this year to the new president, Suzanne Smeltzer, Ed.D., RN, professor and director of nursing research at Villanova University’s College of Nursing.

The organization’s biggest accomplishment, Dr. Robey believes, “has been to raise visibility for the issue and to demonstrate to some of the powers that be at both the federal level and in university administrations that this is something they need to take a look at.  We’ve had three articles published in Academic Medicine, the premiere medical journal in the United States, and we’ve done presentations at national conferences.”

A major goal of the ADHCE is to develop a set of competencies, “a list of things that healthcare professionals need to know or be able to do that is cross-disciplinary and cross-disability.  We want to make sure that a person with a disability doesn’t need to go to a specialist to get the proper care.  Our end goal – and it’s a stretch – is to ensure that every medical school, nursing school and medical training program in the United States has some component to address disability-specific issues.”

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