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A three-year, $533,030 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will help Old Dominion University address a serious and growing problem in today's health care system - meeting the needs of a culturally diverse population.

The Educating Culturally Competent Nurse Practitioners in Virginia project will be a comprehensive effort by the College of Health Sciences' School of Nursing to teach students in its family, women's health and pediatric nurse practitioner programs a multicultural approach to health care.

"Although there have been a number of advances in health services, there continue to be diverse portions of the population that do not receive adequate health care. This grant will address that issue by equipping nurse practitioners with the knowledge, skills, awareness, encounters and desire to work with these special populations," said Laurel Garzon, graduate program director for nursing and project director. Carolyn Rutledge, associate professor of nursing, is the co-project director.

The program, which will commence this fall, will establish a curriculum that teaches students the needs and differences of various ethnic, socio-economic, age, gender, racial, religious and sexual orientation populations. Additionally, the program directors hope to increase diversity among students in the program as well as nurse practitioners in practices serving underserved or disadvantaged populations.

According to Garzon, cultural and other differences can present a serious impediment to the provision of adequate health care. "Some problematic issues can be differing health beliefs and practices, conflicting values, stereotyping, overt and covert prejudices, and language barriers," she said.

The project will begin with a series of focus groups among various diverse populations to learn about the experiences of people in the health-care system and to determine the needs of those groups. From this information, the program directors and nationally known consultant Josepha Campinha-Bacote, founder and president of Transcultural C.A.R.E. Associates, will develop a cultural competency curriculum and assessment tool.

In addition to lectures, panel presentations, guest speakers and class assignments, nurse practitioner students will receive hands-on training in cultural competency. Students will learn interviewing techniques and how to conduct a culturally sensitive physical examination, which may include proper covering of patients, problems/anomalies that are more common in certain cultures, and risk factors, among other concerns.

Using information from the focus groups and consultant, Garzon and Rutledge will develop case scenarios for a standardized patient program, which uses trained actors as patients to simulate an actual health-care visit. The "patients" will not only communicate their symptoms to the nurse practitioner student but will also incorporate cultural differences and barriers.

In another hands-on exercise, nurse practitioner students will participate in a community multicultural event to learn about local diversity and will be required to write a report about their experiences. Additionally, more emphasis will be placed on assigning students to minority or underserved populations during their clinical rotations.

According to Garzon, one of the key elements of the project will be the utilization of Old Dominion's TELETECHNET distance learning network, which reaches every community college, several hospitals and other sites throughout the state.
"Many rural areas of Virginia are medically underserved and desperately in need of culturally competent health providers," she noted. "Sixty percent of our distance learning students come from underserved rural communities. The benefit of reaching them via distance learning is that they remain in those communities to practice upon completion of the program."

This article was posted on: August 20, 2003

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