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Online Campus Enriches PA Online Behavioral Medicine Course

February 17, 2018

Yale faculty member Stephanie Neary, MPA, MMSc, PA-C, is excited that her students, many of whom will practice medicine in urban and rural areas across the United States, will have the ability to learn from practitioners from similar communities nationwide. Significantly, this opportunity will occur without the students or practitioners having to travel from their hometowns. This is because the interactions will occur on the “Online Campus,” during Neary’s Behavioral Medicine I, II, and III courses, which are part of the new Yale Physician Assistant (PA) Online Program. The Online Campus is an innovative, multifaceted platform that will enable active academic and extracurricular engagement between students and faculty in the new program.

The Yale PA Online Program was created, in part, to address the growing need for PAs in currently underserved parts of the United States, including many urban and rural areas. The program’s blended format, combining 12 months of online didactic work, with 15 months of clinical rotations that predominantly can be completed near where a student lives, plus a capstone research project, attracts students who for personal reasons cannot relocate to New Haven to receive their degree. This increases the probability of attracting students who will practice in their home communities after graduating. This demographic structure led Neary to believe it is especially important to expose the students in the program to a wide range of case studies from different parts of the country, including some of the states where students reside.

When Neary learned about the Yale PA Online Program, she viewed the possibility of joining it as the perfect merger of her two worlds of PA clinical work and online education. As an instructor in the program, she is tapping into a network she has developed in the behavioral and preventative medicine field to construct her creative new Behavioral Medicine course. She built up this network as she earned a BS in Exercise Science, an MPA in Health Care Management, and an MMSc in Physician Assistant Studies, as well as through her clinical work at both refugee and urban underserved family medicine clinics. And she is using her expertise gained through six years of teaching university students in both online and on-campus formats, as well as through her involvement with the Physician Assistant Education Association’s Future Educator Development Task Force.

The Behavioral Medicine I, II and III courses are intended to develop skills in patient communication, counseling, education, and cultural diversity, as well as an understanding of how these factors influence all aspects of medical practice. The course will focus on the detection and application of public health and preventive measures, looking at multiple issues including high-risk behaviors, sexuality, nutrition, substance abuse, health disparities, and reaction to illness. With her background in public health before becoming a clinician, Neary believes it is imperative that clinical work is viewed through the prism of looking at the patient as a whole. For example, when someone is diagnosed with diabetes, she advocates looking at issues ranging from food insecurity, to if the patient’s surroundings are ADA-compliant, in deciding the best course of action.

With this goal in mind, each week Neary will conduct an interview or hear from guests who are specialists in the given field, either “live” on location, or taped in advance. For example, one week she will be at a primary care clinic in Phoenix, Arizona that serves the homeless population, interviewing the medical director. Her questions will demonstrate that clinicians cannot focus on the physical state of individuals in a vacuum, but often must consider issues through multiple lenses including those of a social worker, a psychiatrist, and a family medicine expert. Another week, she will engage with the founder of a multidisciplinary physical rehabilitation clinic that provides a myriad of services to children facing developmental disabilities, as well as preschool screenings onsite to uninsured and underinsured children in Charleston County, South Carolina. A third class session will involve speaking with a mother and son in Miami Dade County, Florida, to learn about the issues that must be considered when a child with Downs Syndrome is being mainstreamed. At multiple times throughout the course, students will hear from providers around the country who represent various aspects of primary care, who will share insights on the challenges they face in their clinics and how they overcome barriers, as well as advice for those first few years as a provider.

The tremendous capabilities of the Online Campus enable Neary to both produce high quality video, and share the content with students in an engaging way. The Online Campus is not just a platform where students independently watch video content. Rather, it is structured to allow Neary and other Yale faculty to engage extensively with their individual cohorts of 11-15 students, and for the students to engage with each other. She will spend about six hours each week interacting in a virtual classroom with her students, more than she has done in any previous online or, significantly, on campus programs. During these sessions, videos and other materials are able to be viewed synchronously through a built-in shared screen function, students can raise their hands to speak with the click of a mouse or touch pad, and Neary can break the group into even smaller virtual “breakout rooms” for small-group work and discussions. She also can hold one-on-one conversations with students, and students are encouraged to create student interest groups within the Online Campus. Students also will have an individual link to their own virtual classroom where they can conduct independent study sessions.

Neary also is impressed with the 43 students participating in the program, as she should be since in addition to teaching them, she helped admit them as a member of the Admissions Committee. She explained that the establishment of the Yale PA Online Program has provided talented individuals with a strong interest in health care, but limited geographic mobility, an outstanding opportunity to advance their careers to become PAs who are able to improve the health of their home communities. Because the Yale PA Online Program is a pioneer in this space, the students who have been accepted to Yale’s program are thrilled to finally have this opportunity.

Submitted by Abigail Roth on February 08, 2018