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Dental, nursing students collaborate to care for backside track workers


Working together: University of Louisville general practice resident Dr. Lauren Parsons, and nurse practitioner student Kelly Stice take a medical history of patient Eduviges Atempa at the Kentucky Racing Health Services Center.
Louisville, Ky.—In an effort to engage students in inter-professional education and collaboration, University of Louisville nurse practitioner and dental students are working together to provide health care services to workers in the thoroughbred racing industry.

"Health care in this country is changing, and this project fosters interprofessional team building that can help reinforce coordination of care across patient conditions, services and sites of care," said Dr. John Sauk, dean of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry.

In the collaborative program, which began in spring 2013, nurse practitioner and dental students see 2,000 active patients at the Kentucky Racing Health Services Center. Of the patient population, about 64 percent have been referred this year for oral care, including preventive and emergent care.

The program is part of an effort to engage nursing and dental students in joint seminars, standardized patient learning and clinical experiences to better identify and manage systemic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that are sometimes linked to oral health.

"As research continues to link oral health and general health, we understand the need for this type of education," Dr. Sauk said.

At the KRHSC, the students see behind-the-scenes workers who follow the horse-racing season across the country. Among them are assistant trainers, hot walkers, grooms, exercise riders, blacksmiths and stable workers—and their families. Many of the backside track workers and their families speak different languages and are underserved when it comes to health care.

KRHSC is a joint initiative between the university and the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund Inc., a nonprofit foundation. It first saw its first patient in 2005. KRHSC is just one clinic where students collaboratively see patients, but the only clinic that exists solely to serve backside workers and their families. The students in the two professions also work together at the dental school's clinics, through on-campus health fairs, and through short-term International Service Learning opportunities in other countries, such as Belize.

Each semester at the KRHSC, the school rotates four nurse practitioner students and six students in the general practice residency program.  Meanwhile, about 50 nurse practitioner students have the opportunity to rotate through the dental screening clinics and collaborate with the junior and senior dental students on patient medical history reports.

Additionally, dental students and dental faculty members teach nurse practitioner students how to complete an oral exam and oral cancer screening.

"These interactions help us feel more comfortable interacting with other professions; it is helpful to learn how a nurse practitioner makes a diagnosis and treatment plan for a patient with diabetes, for example," said Dr. Lauren Parsons, general practice resident.

The program is supported through a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration grant.