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Future Shock

Incubating 21st Century Healthcare Professionals

University Business, April 2012

Here we are at a coffee shop in South Boston, commiserating over the latest higher education buzz. Boston, a place that hosts 50 colleges and universities, is the kind of college town that often drives national higher learning megatrends. The talk here is about President Obama taking aim at at student debt load, gainful employment, and health care.  For Obama, “The question isn’t how we can afford to focus on healthcare. The question is how we can afford not to…because in order to fix our economic crisis and rebuild our middle class, we need to fix our healthcare system, too.”

This morning’s man on the street wants a reasonably priced education with strong prospects of future employment – jobs that provide cash flow for managing student loan defaults, delinquencies and deferments – a chain of dominoes that can be pernicious to the future growth of American higher education.

The chatter at the next table first turns to the daunting challenges facing this year’s graduating class, at a time when a fickle economy has shifted jobs away from Northern industrial states to the South and the Southwest. This demographic tsunami could cannibalize second-tier college enrollments – for without jobs, higher ed ceases to be the DNA of social justice and economic success.

From an economic perspective, it seems like we read about spiraling health care costs and fast rising insurance premiums daily – key drivers in the new health science workforce economy. Hence, new pressures to do more with less – read as healthcare expense reduction, cost avoidance, and profit improvement.

This provides a useful segue for visiting several remarkable health profession institutions of higher learning to see how they will meet the challenge of providing affordable, quality healthcare education – recognizing that their teaching and learning outcomes will drive patient outcomes.

At the edge of South Boston in Dorchester sits a long-established Catholic college, Labouré. Founded in 1892, Labouré College has proudly served Greater Boston’s nursing and healthcare education needs for 120 years.

Today, Labouré offers programs in nursing, electroneurodiagnostic technology, healthcare information technology, radiation therapy, nutrition, and food management technology. So, it comes as no surprise that Labouré’s niche is preparing evidence-based nursing leaders with 21st century healthcare skills – the kind of better health profession practices and just in time healthcare solutions that can ratchet down costs and increase quality of care.

What makes this small, yet well recognized institution unusual is that the college is now owned by a fast growing, for-profit healthcare system. Uniquely, Steward Health Care’s focus is on doing good and doing well – providing affordable, quality, community-based healthcare to the citizens of Greater Boston and beyond.

Our campus tour at Labouré and the Carney Hospital teaches us that the acute illness oriented healthcare system of the late 1800s bears little resemblance to the chronic health problems we face today – diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and mental health challenges. Today’s system is built on a flatter, interdisciplinary team with a broader array of skills and knowledge required to coordinate care among several medical and health science disciplines.

At her inauguration ceremony at the JFK Library, Labouré President Maureen Smith conveyed this message, “I see an institution that is well integrated into the Steward Healthcare System – a system committed to world class health care offered in the communities where we live. I believe that Labouré can and will be a vital educational asset within our system.”

Established in 1912, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (Ill.) embraces “life in discovery” – an innovative health science education model where interdisciplinary healthcare teams with different specialties learn, teach, and practice together for the benefit of the whole patient.

On a walking tour of the medical school’s cadaver lab, we learned from Rosalind Franklin President, K. Michael Welch, that future healthcare professionals will function in increasingly complex environments and face a wide spectrum of social imperatives. For this reason, RFUMS is genuinely committed to inter-professional, team-based education with a special focus on predictive and preventative medicine and fully integrated models of healthcare delivery.

The final stop on our national tour of leading-edge healthcare institutions takes us to the University of Alabama Birmingham. The UAB School of Health Professions offers several centers of discovery research in nutrition, obesity, and diabetes. Impressively, UAB consistently ranks in the top 5 percent of all nursing schools in the nation, and facilitates more than 2,000 clinical partnerships.

Harold Jones, Dean of UAB’s School of Health Professions put it this way “The School of Health Professions is part of UAB’s thriving Academic Health Center, and our students have the opportunity to work side by side with world renowned researchers and faculty to utilize the most advanced technologies and to experience the most cutting edge approaches to healthcare treatment.”

What these three venerable health profession institutions have in common is that they have reimagined healthcare higher learning in a way that leverages 21stcentury skills from an interdisciplinary perspective – connecting student competencies with quality patient outcomes and the emergent health care needs of a fast aging American population.