Promoting Interprofessional Learning Through Urban Service Track

Within the Connecticut Area Health Education Center (CT AHEC), housed at UConn Health, students in the Urban Service Track/AHEC Scholars Program not only are learning an interprofessional method of delivering care. These Urban Health/AHEC Scholars also are spreading awareness of this evolving approach to health professions training and patient care. UConn dental student Basant Sallam, UConn nursing student Donice “Nicey” Brooks, and UConn graduate public health and social work program alum Michal Klau-Stevens discuss the Urban Service Track’s objectives and their role in promoting it with the student-run podcast series “Urban Service Talks,” which just debuted.

(Nicey Brooks, Michal Klau-Stevens, Basant Sallam, Chris DeFrancesco, June 2021)


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Chris: For today’s aspiring physicians, dentists, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and social workers. The world of health care they’re preparing for may look quite different than the one their instructors and mentors entered when they finished their training. Today on the Pulse, we hear from some students about the approach they’re taking to get there.

This is the UConn Health Pulse, a podcast to help you get to know UConn Health and its people a little better, and hopefully leave you with some health information you’ll find useful.

I’m Chris DeFrancesco. Now the next generation of health care providers are going through their training with a focus on, among other things, interprofessional collaboration, social determinants of health, and serving the underserved, the kinds of things that impact access to basic health care. Today, we welcome three people who are involved in Connecticut AHEC — Area Health Education Center — which is based at UConn Health.

We have Nicey Brooks, a UConn nursing student. We have Basant Sallam, a UConn dental student. And we have Michal Klau-Stevens, a graduate of UConn’s public health and social work graduate programs. All three are involved in AHEC’s Urban Service Track, which we’ll learn a little bit more about in a second.

Welcome to the three of you. Thank you for your time today.

Basant Sallam: Thanks for having us.

Chris: Now let’s talk a little bit about what Connecticut AHEC and Urban Service Track are.

Basant Sallam: All right. I can start with that. Hi everyone, this is Basant. Thank you for having us. I wanted to start with talking about Urban Service Track. It’s basically a program that is sponsored by Connecticut Area Health Education Center. And what it does is basically work to improve the access to underserved communities and bring about the education to future health care graduates or individuals within the health care industry. And what it does, it links local community groups with the resources within UConn Health and other health profession training programs.

So as you said, it includes the six professions within two schools.

Chris: And what I like about this concept, which I hope you’ll tell us a little more about, is the idea that on the one hand, you’re preparing tomorrow’s health care providers, and on the other hand, you’re serving the community. So there’s a need that’s being met in addition to training along the way.

Michal Klau Stevens: It’s a very hands-on program, Urban Service Track. This is Michal speaking. It’s a public service program essentially where we’re learning by doing and going out into the community and serving the community in different ways. And while we’re doing that, we’re also learning about working with other health professions and working together. We do a lot of case studies and leadership training. So there’s just, it’s a very meaty learning opportunity that puts you out into the community.

Nicey Brooks: Yeah, it does really give us opportunities to cultivate these bonds and these connections with both other health scholars, as well as the community, because we’re going out into the community and oftentimes there are opportunities for us to work one-on-one with community members. For instance, we had this home and community care project where interdisciplinary teams went into patients’ houses, and we asked them about their needs and we found resources for them. So even as students we’re getting a lot of clinical experience that we wouldn’t get in our customary programs.

Chris: Now, whether it’s nursing, medical, dental, physician assistant, social work, pharmacy, you mentioned interdisciplinary, right? So there may not have historically been an interprofessional approach to patient care, but I believe my understanding from my work with Petra over the years about Connecticut AHEC was, we’re kind of changing that trajectory a little bit.

Basant Sallam: Yeah, it’s definitely something that I would say is different. My parents are pharmacists, so it’s different than the education they got. And I’m very grateful to be part of UST, because it really gives me that interprofessional experience. It allows me to learn how to reach out to different professionals and learn from them, as well as share that experience and share that knowledge, to have the end goal of better serving our community and better serving our patients. So it’s really different than what it was years ago, and I think it’s evolving. So we’re constantly learning to get better at it.

Nicey Brooks: I’m a nursing major, so when I go back and I have my clinical rotations with primarily nursing majors, I can bring a new perspective to that because I’m so comfortable and so used to working on these interdisciplinary teams within UST and AHEC.

Michal Klau Stevens: And CT AHEC, in starting the Urban Service Track program, was really ahead of its time. We’re coming into accepting our 15th cohort now. Just in the past couple years, it’s become a real priority for health care educational programs to work with interdisciplinary teams, and so we were really ahead of the time.

Chris: That’s Michal Klau-Stevens you just heard from. Now, Michall, you’re a graduate of UConn’s public health and social work graduate programs, and you’re also a graduate from the Urban Service Track, correct?

Michal Klau Stevens: Yes.

Chris: So you’re a little further along in your career than the rest of us here. So tell us how that experience has shaped you.

Michal Klau Stevens: It’s been amazing. I found that Urban Service Track is the best resume item on my resume, just because working in the health care field, that’s something that’s really sought after now. And to be able to say that I had a two-year training program specifically in interdisciplinary teamwork, it’s something new and it’s something special.

Chris: Now Basant Salam, you’re a dental student.

Basant Sallam: Yep.

Chris: And Nicey Brooks, you’re a nursing student. I’d like to hear how you ended up in Urban Service Track.

Basant Sallam: I saw the opportunity for UST just as I joined dental school, when I received my acceptance. And to be honest, when I read more about it at first, I didn’t really fully grasp the amount of richness of the program that it would provide me. So I went into it with the idea of, “That seems cool. I want to be involved in that. I want to learn how to interact with different professions and learn more about them.” Because frankly, I didn’t know enough about all the different schools. And then when I joined it, I really appreciated that opportunity and appreciated being part of it. Because I’m like, “This was a great choice.”

Chris: Now Nicey, you’re a little bit earlier in the process, right?

Nicey Brooks: Yeah. So I’m a rising senior and the school of nursing. But I stumbled on it because I was looking through the standard school of nursing curriculum, and I really was drawn in by it, because the only real interaction that we have talking about underserved populations and social determinants of health is a singular public health course. And I kind of wanted to focus more time on that because working in underserved and urban areas is something that I’ve always had a passion for, and that’s always how I’ve seen myself as a nurse. But because a lot of our rotations are taking place in a hospital, that’s not really something that we get. So it’s really nice to get that supplemental program.

Basant Sallam: A lot of the training part that we get from UST is not something that we get from the traditional didactic portion of our education. So that’s why I think it’s enriching to learn more, and I think it would make us better health care providers.

Chris: We’re on a podcast now, but you have your own podcast. So tell us a little bit about why you have a podcast and what are you hoping to accomplish with that. And whom are you looking to reach?

Basant Sallam: We do have our podcast that started this year, in light of COVID. And I guess that was the silver lining that brought about this project. It’s a leadership opportunity that kind of like strengthens our skills and allows us to be involved in these opportunities. And as Michal said, a lot of the projects that we have at UST is student-run, student-led, and they’re trying to strengthen our leadership roles in that way. So it was a leadership opportunity, as well as educating the health care community and bringing about the UST values that we have here to the rest of the community. You see values, you see experiences. All these things when they’re shared within the community help strengthen our ability to provide better care.

Nicey Brooks: I also think that because we have such a diverse range of topics for our podcasts, we get to show how there’s that common thread, or there’s a few common threads, like that need for interdisciplinary care, the need to acknowledge the social determinants of health and the need to emphasize care and underserved populations. On our podcasts, we get to invite students and professionals who are working and doing that hard community work and looking into some issues that should be addressed in that interdisciplinary way. And I feel like it just kind of underscores how important it is to get the perspectives from different health professions, people who have been trained differently.

Chris: Great, and whom are you looking to reach?

Michal Klau Stevens: We’re looking to reach anybody who’s interested in health care and health care education out in the community, anywhere in the world. Actually we’ve talked about the potential for international, interest in it, because UST is such an innovative program and talking about interprofessional teams and how they work, it’s really leading the way in that trend.

Chris: So how do we access this podcast? How do we find it? How often does it come out, and what else would we know about it?

Basant Sallam: So this podcast, anyone can access it wherever they can access their podcasts. Our first season drops on June 1.

Chris: Is it going to be monthly, or every couple of weeks? Or do you kind of have a schedule worked out yet?

Nicey Brooks: Well, because this is primarily student-run, student-led, we tend to work in the semesters. I, Nicey, and another one of the participants on the podcast committee, Tyler, are going to take this over into the summer, we’re going to be working a little bit more behind the scenes. And then when the next cohort comes in and joins, we’re going to kind of get them acclimated before we make any final decisions about posting  again.

Michal Klau Stevens: It’ll be an ongoing program of Urban Service Track, and I think it speaks to the uniqueness and creativity of the Urban Service Track program and CT AHEC that a lot of the educational goals are being incorporated into this program. So it’s leadership, it’s working in the interprofessional teams, it’s skill building, it’s dealing with the health care education by interviewing different health care providers. So even in this time of COVID, it’s been this amazing pivot that moves forward those same goals in a really creative way.

Chris: So we’ll be able to find it wherever you get your podcasts. And I would imagine somewhere on the Connecticut AHEC page and the Urban Service Track, maybe, page as well, or somewhere in that domain? And we’ll put all those links in the show notes so people can find it. But nobody told what the name of the podcast is.

Basant Sallam: So the name of the podcast is “Urban Service Talks.”

Chris: “Urban Service Talks,” OK. Before we say goodbye, just an opportunity for any or all of you to briefly explain how the podcast fits into the broader mission of what you’re looking to do through the Urban Service Track.

Nicey Brooks: Well, again, it’s more leadership opportunities. We are able to set up the interviews with these health care professionals. Then we’re able to also just kind of work together interprofessionally, think about the kind of things that we might want to do once we leave and the projects that we want to put out or that we can get involved in even now. So it’s just nice to have that kind of content to show other USTers, whether they’re just coming in or if they’ve been in the program for a couple of years, but it’s just nice to have that to put back out into our community as well as other communities.

Basant Sallam: And also the experiences that you get from working in a team, working interprofessionally, working on very important topics like serving the underserved, social determinants of health, big topics that we always make sure to include in every episode.

Michal Klau Stevens: For me, coming back to mentor these students, that’s how I’m putting my UST skills to use, helping to train new professionals and help them to reach their potential, show them that there are so many different skills that they can bring to the table that all matter. So that’s, I’m living my dream.

Chris: Real quick, before we say goodbye, do you envision then that — Nicey or Basant, you two o especially —  a cohort four or five years from now will be doing this podcast, and one of you will be back on the show, as a guest, to share your experience with that group of people?

Basant Sallam: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s the exciting part of it, that I do see a lot of framework being put down. We kind of like made the scaffold of it, and I see it going further. And I would be so excited to come back. It’s like our little baby that grew.

Nicey Brooks: Yeah, I totally agree. I feel as though UST has so many community partners and they stay in contact so well with their alum, as you can see, like Michal is back here. So it’s just, I can definitely see myself doing something and then coming back and wanting to share that with the future podcast committees.

Chris: Well, that’s terrific. I wish you the best of luck with this, I’d love to see you thrive, and I’m glad that you were able to take a few moments to come on our show, to talk about it. And hopefully we can drive some of our audience over to you and introduce them to what you’re up to as well.

That is the time we have for today. So for Nicey Brooks, Michal Klau-Stevens, and Basant Sallam, I’m Chris DeFrancesco. Thank you for listening to the UConn Health Pulse. Now be sure to subscribe, so you can catch us next time, and please share with a friend.