The university will gather data throughout the four years spent with the families to determine whether students make a difference. Pontious says they will monitor such things as what services were provided and how the health status of the family changes.
The students participated in a seminar together last year, but this is the first year for the NeighborhoodHELP program.
"We already know that the medical students and nursing students have learned from each other about what their roles are and they have communicated what their real roles are," says Pontious. "As students come into the program, they have certain beliefs in their head about what their role will be. As they begin to work together, they find out their roles are different than what they thought they would be."
Pontious explains that medical students, for example, might assume their role is to come in and diagnose the patients, prescribe medication, and so on. But with the involvement of other disciplines, they can learn to look at the patient as a whole, considering the societal factors of care, such as whether patients have the financial means to afford the medications prescribed.
This point is reinforced by Tina Jacomino, a home health aide trainer with United HomeCare Services, who will be presenting a training session to the students before the program kicks off. Jacomino is an RN with years of experience working with patients in home care. She says the dynamics of working with patients in their own homes is quite different from a hospital or office setting.
"It's a very different attitude from patients and families when you come to see them in their home as opposed to an office," says Jacomino. "You're in that patient's comfort zone. In the hospital, the patient feels like the stranger. Now, we feel like the stranger."
Jacomino says students will have to learn how to feel out the situation. "You need to assess the location, everything around you in a holistic way. Is the home safe? If there is no air, does that mean they don't have the finances for their utilities? You can see the dynamics of the family. It's very different and interesting and you can gather a lot more information that is useful in aiding the person in their needs."
The medical and nursing students who visit families will be able to bring in students from other disciplines as necessary, including social work, physical therapy, or even law or public health to help meet the family's needs.
Pontious explains that the program will get students comfortable with working with many professionals and that such collaboration will be expected in their professional lives.
"I think that both sets of students will be much more comfortable with working with nurses or physicians or other health providers," she says. "They will have learned to communicate with each other positively."