Dean, College of Health Professions
by John Smith - March 24, 2020
Change is constant, and collaboration is a critical component in creating varied responses.
College of Health Professions Dean Lincoln A. Gibbs keeps an open mind to new considerations
and input from supportive peers and instructors, who move nimbly to adjust instructional
offerings and benefit students on Ferris State University’s campus.
Gibbs said Dental Hygiene studies present a unique opportunity to provide preventive care, including oral hygiene, and detect underlying health issues, with their instruction moving toward greater responsiveness for patients, particularly those in rural communities.
“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration seeks the establishment of a Dental Therapist, a designation available in just a few states across the country,” Gibbs said. “These mid-level practitioners, licensed by the Board of Dentistry, would have the ability to administer inhalation sedation, place pre-formed crowns and extract a tooth, providing those skills in communities where a dentist’s practice may not be feasible, based on the population. Since Ferris has the largest Dental Hygiene program in the state, we have the perfect setting to train students, who might then return to communities that need this level of care. We hope to be Michigan’s first provider for this training.”
Gibbs said proposals for this discipline are in the development stages, and some practical approaches to meet these initiatives are apparent.
“We would likely create a Master of Science degree in Dental Therapy,” Gibbs said. “That seems to be the most beneficial approach for students who would be interested in such a program. Ideally, this may be a career opportunity for a graduate of our Dental Hygiene undergraduate program who returns for the advanced degree, receives the training and accepts placement in an underserved community.”
Part of the adjustment of Dental Hygiene programming will include using available space in the Spathelf Center for Allied Health in a different way.
“We are developing a rendering of the Dental Clinic space so that the layout will accommodate the proposed Master of Dental Therapy training,” Gibbs said. “A smaller clinic would be established within that footprint to serve as the base for that learning.”
The College of Health Professions and Ferris’ College of Pharmacy have also explored collaborative offerings, such as the Doctor of Pharmacy, Master of Public Health dual degree curriculum.
“Pharmacy Dean Stephen Durst and I agreed that our graduates, particularly those earning a PharmD do not operate in silos,” Gibbs said. “A pharmacist not only dispenses medication, but frequently administers vaccinations in their marketplace, they might engage in some diagnostic activity like blood pressure tests, and glucose monitoring, so they are often the conduit to keep the public aware and informed. Pharmacists who have begun their careers are adding a Master of Public Health to their learning, and this is likely to continue. Our college and the College of Pharmacy believe it will be important to position ourselves to support and help lead any changes in the scope of Pharmacy practice.”
Gibbs said that with public health and infectious disease issues rising as matters of national and international focus, the university’s PharmD/MPH program and other Master of Public Health joint degree studies will remain areas in continual review and emphasis, going forward.
“We are trying to give Pharmacy students the interprofessional curricular support they need so that they can serve and succeed in the community,” Gibbs said. “Public Health professionals are out responding to the needs of communities, whether it be educating citizens on positive health behaviors and hygiene practices to guard against COVID-19, influenza, HIV/AIDS, and other serious illnesses. Pharmacists also are an important resource in terms of keeping the public aware and informed.”
The dean added there is a College of Pharmacy faculty member enrolled in the inaugural cohort of PharmD/MPH study at Ferris, which the colleges refer to as the “pilot students” in this program.
“We are seeing great enthusiasm in this group, as they learn about diseases, public health practice and look to the clinical benefit that will be gained through this learning,” Gibbs said. “It is proving valuable for our MPH faculty, who are receiving and offering important feedback, thanks to the level of advanced discussion they are experiencing in these classes.”
The collaboration between the College of Health Professions and the College of Pharmacy also extends to outreach, exemplified by a recent health screening initiative that took place at the West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center in Kentwood.
“This was an event that also allowed students in Dental Hygiene and Ferris’ Social Work program to gain practical interprofessional experience,” Gibbs said. “They learned how to provide health care assistance to new U.S. immigrants, with support from interpreters provided by the center, as needed. Our students offered tests for glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and BMI readings, existing medication review, oral health exams, and one-on-one health screening reviews with results recorded so the participants could provide that information to their primary care professionals. It puts a great face on all the Ferris programs that took part; I am glad to work with our campus partners to provide these benefits.”
The CHP’s School of Nursing is another collaborative partner, during the annual Poverty Simulation that takes place on Ferris’ campus. Gibbs said the College of Pharmacy and students in the Social Work program also benefit from this interactive event.
“We have participants who portray bankers, drug dealers, insurance professionals, even robbers,” Gibbs said. “Those students are given roles to present, so that the prospect of deciding whether someone chooses to work, rather than going to a doctor’s appointment is illustrated, or how someone responds when they need insulin, but have run out of money. When they become professionals, these same scenarios are likely to present themselves, regardless of their working in urban or rural settings. We know that our students like the perspective they gain from this interprofessional experience, and we intend to offer it each year.”
Collaboration for the College of Health Professions is not restricted to activities with other colleges on Ferris’ campus. Gibbs said the university has long been an active supporter of the Grand Rapids African-American Health Institute, which has as its mission the promotion of health care parity in the community through advocacy, education and research, to achieve positive health outcomes.
“We are one of seven institutions in the region who are working to diversify how health care looks, and how we offer health care education,” Gibbs said. “Our partners are Calvin University, Davenport University, Aquinas and Hope Colleges, Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Community College. As supporters of the Health Care Pathways Initiative, we hope to make those in under-represented groups aware of the career opportunities that health care offers, help them to become involved, and see that they successfully complete their studies in their desired field. One of the goals of the initiative is to promote studies in health care fields to under-represented high school students so we may continue to advance a healthcare workforce that reflects the patient population that we serve in communities.”
Gibbs said university counselors and the Financial Aid Office continue to work with students who may have economic barriers to pursue higher education.
“Ferris’ student base, in the CHP, would benefit from an increase in the number of under-represented students, related to ethnic, racial and gender diversity,” Gibbs said. “Many students are not even aware that there are programs where student loans can be forgiven when a commitment is made to serve for up to three years in rural or urban settings that are classified as critical shortage health facilities. We had, at one time, a registered student organization focused on Men in Health Care. This organization allowed us the opportunity to engage men in conversations about healthcare careers that are predominantly employed by women and explore different ethnic, racial and gender-based diversity funding opportunities to assist under-represented students. We look forward to the restoration of that group next year.”
The dean said while all the efforts in program alteration and affiliation continue, his faculty and peers understand that health care is in a constant state of change, with technology upgrades and other factors to consider.
“Our Medical Informatics minor is on the cusp of so many advances, due to the record-keeping and reporting that is required for the sake of providers, insurers, regulators and other involved parties,” Gibbs said. “We have felt for some time this training was applicable for students in our college, and the College of Business. We believe it will be an appealing option to students in the College of Pharmacy, the College of Optometry and the College of Arts and Sciences. As the industry continues to change, we will stay active and attentive to each advance.”
John Smith is the communications specialist in the News Services and Social Media department of University Advancement and Marketing.
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