Medical students explore solutions for healthy aging and mental health
- Five medical students from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria are headed to Streator to connect with older individuals
- The students are from an EquIMED program focused on exposing students to individuals living in medically under resourced communities
- EquIMED students will be working to come up with solutions for healthy aging and mental health challenges among older Streator-area residents
Like many communities, the older population in Streator, Illinois has grown – so much so that 20% of residents in the north central city are 65 or older. So, it’s no surprise that healthy aging ranked as the fourth-most important health issue in the most recent Community Health Needs Assessment There’s also a big concern about mental health which ranked second for identified health needs in the 2022 survey.
That demographic information and identified health priorities will help guide the innovation sprint by medical students from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria (UICOMP). They’re part of the EquIMED program – a four-year elective track for medical students. During an innovation sprint, third and fourth year students are challenged with developing an innovative tool or approach to solve a fundamental problem.
Starting February 12, five EquIMED students will be spending a week in Streator to learn first-hand about health challenges for those 65 and older. They will then pair up to develop solutions.
“We have medical providers and social service agencies under one roof at the Center for Health in Streator so there are opportunities for collaborative solutions,” says Community Health Engagement Program Manager Ellen Vogel.
In the past, we have asked medical students to help us with obesity, food insecurity and teen mental health, but there is a growing concern about our older population facing physical, but equally as important, mental health challenges.
Vogel points out the second-most populous city in LaSalle County, Streator does not have an adult day center or a senior center.
The EquIMED program was developed with an understanding that the challenges facing rural and under resourced communities across the globe are the same as in the U.S. and so solutions developed could help regionally and globally.
“As many as 1.5 million Illinois residents lack access to health care because they live in rural and/or medically underserved communities. We need to come up with solutions that provide more access, but also that can support those residents in between appointments,” says John Vozenilek, MD, vice president for Innovation & Digital Health, OSF HealthCare. Dr. Vozenilek who is also a UICOMP professor and course director adds, “The University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria EquIMED track offers a four-year curriculum and the opportunity to expose future medical providers to patient populations with unique struggles as well as strategies for how to create innovative solutions for them.”
EquIMED students are learning about innovation through hands-on work, small group sessions, simulations, online lectures, lunch and learns, dinner speakers, as well as from instruction by OSF Innovation experts who work at the Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center, a collaboration between OSF HealthCare and UICOMP.
“The solutions generated by the students have the potential to offer real value, but the real value to the EquIMED students is the journey of discovery and what they learn through an iterative process to advance health equity innovation across environments where health disparities exist. They learn how to ask questions, communicate, document, think critically and research what’s already available and bring the best options forward,” explains UICOMP Program Coordinator Erica Litzsey, MS. “They can use the approach in the future whether they become physicians serving rural, urban or any type of community.”
Some previous solutions from EquIMED students are being developed further in partnership with Bradley University:
- PeoriaFresh! - The software system allows food banks and local gardeners to collaborate and share produce.
- Diabetes and Resourceful Testing (DART) - An app that uses community health workers to increase access to diabetes testing supplies so glucose levels can be measured at least once a week. It will also provide a dashboard with alerts or individual patients better manage their glucose levels. Bradley and OSF are providing additional funding for both efforts through an Innovation for Health grant.
The diabetes management program was a solution proposed by students working in Uganda which has a problem with patients being able to access and afford diabetes testing supplies, particularly in communities with no hospitals or medical clinics. UICOMP has an ongoing relationship with a university in Uganda but due to unrest in the East African country, along with a U.S. travel ban, students won’t be traveling there for their innovation sprint this semester. Erica Litzsey says EquIMED program leaders are looking for another university willing to collaborate to expand the global options for embedding students for future innovation sprints abroad.