2015-16 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation Schweitzer Fellows Kaushal Gandhi and Connie Wang didn’t realize when they applied for a NC Albert Schweitzer Fellowship that their journey would lead them to winning the UNC School of Dentistry’s inaugural Multidisciplinary Curriculum Innovation Contest and to their project becoming incorporated in the school’s curriculum.
“When we began our Fellowship year, I did not expect us to have such a major impact within our community and perhaps we would not have focused on the sustainability aspect as much had it not been a part of the Fellowship requirements,” said Gandhi.
The Oral Wellness and Nutrition Program (OWN) was originally created by 2014-15 Fellows Omar Abdel-Baky and Christopher Walker to help diabetic patients at UNC School of Dentistry’s clinic manage their disease through reduced fee dental services and free nutritional counseling by dental students and registered dietician students. Gandhi and Wang expanded the program to include counseling by pharmacy students and to serve patients with other complex medical needs as well as diabetes.
Working in partnership with mentors Drs. Lew Lampiris, Ralph Leonard, Heidi Anksorus, Kim Sanders, and Christine Downey, the Fellows created a multidisciplinary approach to patient care in which dental, public health, and pharmacy students worked collaboratively to provide one-on-one counseling and education for nutrition and medication compliance.
“We started with one mentor, and picked up many more wonderful mentors along the way. The guidance, support, and friendships gained from working with our mentors have been instrumental in the success of the OWN program and our own personal growth.”
As a result of their efforts, 40 patients received up to four one-on-one counseling sessions resulting in more than $3,200 worth of services provided at no charge. In addition, 40 DDS students, 10 RD/MPH students, and four PharmD students participated in the program gaining valuable experience in counseling patients and working in an interdisciplinary team. The expansion of OWN into the curriculum means that all dental students will now have the opportunity to manage the treatment of a medically complex patient and to integrate medication and nutrition counseling into their treatment planning.
Wang is excited about the ripple effect that the project will have at UNC and beyond. “What started as a small idea will have an impact on the future of all dental providers that graduate from UNC,” she said. “I am thrilled that the Fellowship paved the way for broad, systemic changes in the healthcare community, and humbled that I have been a part of these changes.”