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Casting Net for Talented, Committed Trainees

Annual Report - Winter 2012

Illustration: Dave Cutler

Programs take aim at shortage

By Mary Brolley

The needs are dire.

In the United States, a shortage of health care professionals — from physicians and researchers to mid-level providers and technicians — is expected to worsen as an aging population retires and requires more care. To attract the best and brightest to essential health care jobs, MD Anderson has a growing number of innovative programs.

Allied health professionals

The mission of the School of Health Professions (SHP) is clear and compelling: to prepare students to meet the critical shortage of health care professionals now and in the future.

Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and located within the heart of 
MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center campus, the school provides the current enrollment of 320 students an education that seamlessly combines comprehensive academics with a clinical education.

“Our eight programs touch on every aspect of a patient’s stay,” says Shirley Richmond, Ed.D., dean of the SHP.

The school offers bachelor of science degrees in eight highly specialized fields: clinical laboratory science, cytogenetic technology, cytotechnology, diagnostic imaging, histotechnology, medical dosimetry, molecular genetic technology and radiation therapy. Graduates of the SHP routinely score in the top 25% on national professional certification exams.

Biomedical sciences researchers

It’s the first of its kind in the nation. In the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, doctoral students can enroll in a program called “Cancer Metastasis Research: From Bench to Bedside.”

Supported by a grant from The University of Texas System Graduate Program Initiative, the program explores the emergent field of metastasis — spread of disease to distant organs — the principle cause of death in those afflicted with solid tumors.

“We have the resources and a willing and able faculty,” says Gary Gallick, Ph.D., program director and professor in the Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. “This program would be hard to develop anywhere else.

In addition to her own practice, Clinical Pharmacy 
Specialist Andrea Landgraf, R.Ph., directs the Pharmacy 
Graduate Year 2 program in oncology in the Department 
of Pharmacy Clinical Programs.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

Pharmacy residents

Most undergraduate pharmacy education involves didactic learning, with little patient contact until late in the process, says Joel Lajeunesse, vice president for pharmacy.

But, at MD Anderson, pharmacy residents get plenty of direct patient contact through the Pharmacy Graduate Year 2 (PGY2) program. PGY2 allows those who’ve completed a one-year residency in pharmacy to specialize in one of two areas for another year.

Six residents specialize in oncology; two focus on critical care. Recruited through a national match program, the residents leave with refined clinical skills and prepared for board certification exams.

Physician assistants

Though physician assistants (PAs) can get a job straight out of school, some opt for additional specialized training and education. At MD Anderson, a few PAs choose to participate in a yearlong postgraduate clinical training program in oncology — the only such program in the country.

Maura Polansky, PA in the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology and program director of physician assistant education, says PAs who complete this training are seeking a challenging, but collaborative, practice. “By choosing to work with cancer patients, who tend to be very ill, they must stay abreast of the latest advances in cancer care — and are opting for the team approach.”

Nursing externship

At MD Anderson, nurses are the mainstay of medical care for inpatients and outpatients. In addition to a thriving yearlong program, a competitive summer training program for student nurses — the Professional Student Nurse Externship — develops essential skills and confidence for the 30 students chosen.

The 10-week program combines classroom study, outside speakers and one-on-one bedside coaching on an inpatient floor. “You can track how they mature as people and as nurses,” explains Rosa Semien, registered nurse and project manager in 
MD Anderson’s Department of Nursing Workforce Development. “Preceptors (mentors) get the chance to give back to students, students benefit greatly, and, importantly, so do our patients.”

Survivorship researchers

“Survivorship is the new wave of cancer care, but we have much to learn,” says Guadalupe Palos, Dr.P.H., manager of clinical protocol administration in the Office of Cancer Survivorship.

She supervises the research of several undergraduate and graduate students and serves on the dissertation committees for three, one of whom is Ellen Mullen, a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Tyler.

Mullen’s dissertation concerns the effects of telephone counseling on the health behaviors of elderly cancer survivors with low literacy. She recently defended her dissertation — via Skype. “She did a great job,” Palos says. “Our students are so passionate about what they’re doing. We learn from each other.”

In these and many other ways, MD Anderson is ensuring that there will be enough health care professionals to meet the needs of cancer patients for generations to come.

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