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Federal Funding to Improve Health Care Professional Education on Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Integrating Inclusive Curricular Materials on Behalf of the Most Vulnerable Expected to Advance Care

Dr. Suzanne Smeltzer

Suzanne C. Smeltzer, EdD, RN, ANEF, FAAN, The Richard and Marianne Kreider Endowed Professor in Nursing for Vulnerable Populations at the Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, has received funding from the Administration for Community Living, a federal agency overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a project consisting of five academic collaborators for Partnering to Transform Health Outcomes with Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD). The goals of this 5-year, $1,750,000 project, are to develop, disseminate and evaluate high-impact inclusive curricular materials and standardized practice experiences for integration through interprofessional education and practice programs at the collaborating institutions (in addition to Villanova, they are Rush University [the submitting university], University of Illinois at Chicago, St. John Fisher College, and the University of Minnesota). Furthermore, the materials will be disseminated to 30 additional institutions with the goal of training over 15,000 students from all health care disciplines.

This project will address the health disparities and health care inequities that affect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the lack of attention to disability in healthcare professionals’ educational programs. This project is consistent with Villanova Nursing’s efforts to provide education and experience to undergraduate and graduate nursing students about the health care needs of individuals with disability.

“This distinctive and impactful interprofessional project is a natural and much-needed extension of the decades of science and advocacy relentlessly pursued by Dr. Smeltzer and the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing on behalf of persons with disability. She has fearlessly been the voice in the wind, disrupting the status quo - not only in nursing but across disciplines in health care - to address this disparity of care and prepare the next generation of nurses to provide high-quality healthcare for the most vulnerable among us,” says Donna S. Havens, PHD, RN, FAAN, Connelly Endowed Dean and Professor. Dr. Smeltzer is a highly skilled researcher and an internationally recognized scholar and author in the area of health care and health-care access for those with disabilities - a vulnerable population that is often underserved and whose needs are frequently ignored. 

Dr. Smeltzer, a co-investigator on the project along with the representatives from each of the other four institutions, notes, “Multiple international and national agencies and organizations have issued calls to action to address the health inequities affecting those with ID/DD. Improving the education of healthcare students about ID/DD is a major step in preparing future healthcare professionals to provide quality care to this population.”

The project will begin with a review of what exists in the curricula of health professions, and identifying what and where the gaps are related to what health care professionals need to know to provide quality care to individuals with ID/DD.  Experts across the country will be brought in to work with the team on various aspects of the project, which ultimately will produce curricular materials and strategies to address the topic of ID/DD. Some of those experts will be individuals with ID/DD and their family members/caregivers and others will be health care professionals from across the health care spectrum.

The team will be using interprofessional education and practice as an approach since collaboration among health care professionals is key to care for those with ID/DD. They will be testing, evaluating, implementing and disseminating the curricular materials and strategies to healthcare professions' schools and programs. The Alliance for Disability in Health Care Education, Inc. (ADHCE), Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and Golisano Institute for Developmental Disabilities-Nursing (GIDDN) are examples of collaborating organizations and entities. They also anticipate working with the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association and organizations aligned with other disciplines, including medicine.

The team is using the Collective Impact Model as an organizing framework for the structure of the project for social change as it emphasizes the importance of community involvement.