Case Western Reserve University Prepares to Open Innovative, Collaborative Campus for Health Professions Students

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Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio, is going to great lengths to prepare the next generation of dentists, nurses, and physicians for the future of healthcare. In partnership with the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, the university has undertaken one of the most innovative projects in modern medical education — the construction of a 485,000 square foot facility that will house CWRU’s medical, dental, and nursing schools all under one roof. 

[Above: Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio]

The new Health Education Campus (HEC) is set to open its doors in summer 2019. It will be a state-of-the-art facility equipped with the latest in medical education technology and the ability to accommodate the thousands of students, faculty, and staff who will soon spend much of their time learning, researching, and treating patients within its many spacious laboratories and classrooms. 

Kenneth Chance
Kenneth Chance

The ultimate goal of this massive project, says Kenneth B. Chance, DDS, dean of the CRWU School of Dental Medicine (SoDM), is to revolutionize the way health professions students learn and think about patient care. “The HEC opens up the ability to guide a patient through the entire healthcare and treatment process,” says Chance. “What we’re going to do is remove the barriers between different areas of care so students start to think about the patient every step of the way in providing him or her with the right tests, diagnoses, information… and to really become a team member for the patient.”

The current CWRU School of Medicine building
The current CWRU School of Medicine building

Medical education — like many areas in higher education — tends to operate in silos with little awareness or collaboration with those in different areas and specialties, says Chance. This means future doctors, nurses, and dentists who could be learning together how to care for patients are instead relegated to separate classes and buildings. This educational model is inefficient and does a disservice to students and their future patients, he says. “With the HEC, students will get to know more about the other (health) professions, will respect each other, and will understand how all efforts are to be centered on the patient,” he says. 

This type of understanding is particularly important for dentistry because oral health plays a pivotal role in disease prevention and overall wellbeing — yet dentists rarely learn or practice within the vicinity of other healthcare providers. In order to provide for a patient’s optimum health, doctors, nurses, and dentists should all be aware of the connections between oral care and certain conditions and diseases — such as diabetes, periodontal disease, and oral cancer — so that they can give the right information on prevention and be able to collaborate on treatment plans. “We find that 27 million people see the dentist but do not see a physician each year, so to have dentists trained to refer these patients for tests for chronic diseases, high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc., can really help prevent and provide early diagnoses of diseases,” he says. 

A rendering of the new Case Western Reserve University Health Education Campus (photo courtesy of Foster+Partners)
A rendering of the new Case Western Reserve University Health Education Campus
(photo courtesy of Foster+Partners)

Having this type of interdisciplinary knowledge and teamwork is also beneficial for health professionals in underserved communities. Collaborative care can drastically reduce health costs by preventing disease and reducing the likelihood of expensive emergency treatment, says Chance. This is a particular mission of the new dental clinic that is being built as part of the HEC construction project. Though it will be located across the street in a separate facility from the HEC, the three-story building is expected to provide low-cost, high-quality dental care to approximately 50,000 patients annually, including those in the surrounding Hough neighborhood — which is primarily African American and very medically underserved, he says. 

Having the HEC and new dental clinic be prominent, accessible parts of the neighborhood means community members will not only have better access to healthcare, but local students and young people will be able to see the diversity of CWRU’s health professions students and the many possibilities available to them in medical and higher education generally. “We hope we are creating an interest in them to pursue degrees in these fields,” Chance says.

Patricia Thomas
Patricia Thomas

The different health professions schools are currently working on developing a curricular framework that will allow for knowledge sharing and teamwork at the HEC. “We have a group of health profession educators who have been working on this for a couple of years and have decided that there are skills and competencies [the schools] all share. We all value patient-centered care, health equity, and communication with patients, families, and one another,” says Patricia Thomas, MD, vice dean for medical education in the CWRU School of Medicine (CWRU SOM). At the HEC, first year medical, dental, and nursing students will take a foundations course together to introduce them to these competencies and values, which will require small group work in interprofessional teams, says Thomas. “The next step is going out in the community, which we already have a number of opportunities for students to do,” she says. “We hope to step up real-world opportunities, so every student has at least one real-world experience with an interprofessional team during his or her degree program.”

Furthermore, the HEC’s state-of-the-art facilities are designed to allow and encourage collaboration in the classroom and laboratory. The building’s simulation center offers 20 exam rooms where students can practice diagnosing and treating standardized patients. The anatomy area of the building will include a physical exam room, radiology viewing room, and a space dedicated to the use of new virtual reality technology that allows students to visualize body parts like the heart and other internal organs in 3D. The SOM has been piloting a Microsoft technology that allows this type of superior learning experience for a year now and will soon be able to share it with nursing and dental students in the new building, says Thomas. “We’re not standing in a dissecting lab anymore where it’s hard to share resources,” she says. 

The new facilities will also be a boon to attracting new students to the medical fields, including those who are underrepresented or have never seen themselves as health professionals before, says Thomas. “Bringing in our pipeline (program) students and letting them see the breadth of health education, the ways of learning that are quite fun and interactive and social, as well as the breadth and diversity of students in the building — I think that’s going to make medical education more attractive and really speak to the inclusion and diversity goals we have,” she says.  

Faye Gary, EdD, serves as the Medical Mutual of Ohio Kent W. Clapp Chair and professor of nursing for CWRU’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing (FPB). She says the new campus will have a transformative effect not only on increasing diversity in enrollment, but also in helping future physicians, dentists, and nurses understand the perspectives of others — whether that be classmates, faculty, or patients. “One of the things that will happen is … diversity of thought, of research ideas, innovations in regard to patient care, and also just getting to know people from around the U.S. and the world,” says Gary, adding that the CWRU schools have many international faculty and students. “The more we work together with different people the more likely we are to expand our worldviews and get beyond our own biases and prejudices by confronting them ourselves.”

Furthermore, understanding biases and prejudices while immersed in medical education can help students see how these things affect science, clinical practice, workforce relationships, and the goals and mission of an institution, says Gary. Similarly, when diverse groups of nursing, dental, and medical students work together on projects such as clinical case scenarios they are able to understand how diversity in the health professions can improve patient care.

These are lessons that students will take with them beyond HEC to the local communities where they complete volunteer and clinical practice activities and to the clinics, hospitals, and organizations where these future professionals will work, she says. “Caring for patients doesn’t always occur within four walls, so this collaboration will be in different communities, clinics, and other places,” says Gary. “The seed, if you will, is the new building — but the ideas must go beyond the building to have any kind of impact.”● 

Mariah Bohanon is Associate Editor for INSIGHT Into Diversity.