Program Brings Students and Community Together

Annual program brings students and community together to highlight the importance of diabetes prevention.

Annual Program Brings Students and Community Together to Highlight the Importance of Diabetes Prevention

Diabetes causes more deaths every year in the U.S. than breast cancer and AIDS combined, and is ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. More than 30 million American adults have diabetes, and approximately a quarter of them don’t know they have it. In Yakima County alone, one in eleven people have diabetes, and one in three people are prediabetic.

Committed to addressing the issue head-on, a collection of first- and second-year PNWU osteopathic medical students gathered recently to undergo training for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Diabetes Prevention Program (DDP). The program is a partnership of public and private organizations working to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.

The PNWU student facilitation of the program began in 2015 as a research project by a group of PNWU students (Leia Franchini, DO, MPH, Class of 2018, Vy Nguyen, DO, Class of 2017, Alexandra Ostromecki, DO, MPH, Class of 2017, Adam Reno, DO, MPH, Class of 2017, and Jenn MacSwords, DO, Class of 2017). According Jenna Seeley, MA, second-year medical student and current Co-Coordinator of PNWU’s Diabetes Prevention Program, the program was originally established a method of developing empathy in medical students.

As a Paul Ambrose Scholar, PNWU Class of 2018 graduate Leia Franchini received a small start-up grant for a research project, titled “Examination of Osteopathic Medical Students’ Perceptions of Patients Facing Chronic Illness.” Franchini capitalized on that project by launching PNWU’s DPP program, with the goal of creating a student training program that would continue long after she graduated.

The first training was presented in February, 2015 by PNWU Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Erin Hepner. Since then, Hepner has presented seven DPP trainings at PNWU, educating 156 future physicians on the importance of type 2 diabetes prevention. PNWU is the only medical school Hepner is aware of that is partnering with a DPP program to allow students to co-facilitate.

The latest training, held on October 12, provided education for 35 first- and second-year PNWU medical students. Those students will go on to utilize the training by volunteering at local community classes, where they’ll help to collaborate, educate, and facilitate healthy lifestyle choices in order encourage weight loss and other healthy lifestyle changes, which aim to help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke in the community.

The classes, which take place weekly over a four-month span, are held at The Tieton House, The Heart Center, and The Education Center — which are all affiliated with Yakima Memorial Hospital. The entire 16-week program costs $50 dollars. Seeley says that the classes typically have five to twenty participants show up on a given night — most of whom are prediabetic.

"Involvement in the Diabetes Prevention Program has been a phenomenal opportunity to immerse myself in the Yakima community, addressing the medical needs of the people of Yakima Valley, while also getting to know them on a personal basis,” explained Seeley. “I have had the opportunity to celebrate their wins from week to week with pounds lost and confidence gained.”

Seeley and her medical school peers offer the classes on a weekly basis, in English or Spanish.

“Teaching classes in English and Spanish has provided me a unique perspective and has enabled me to further see the importance of how cultural-sensitivity plays a role in healthy lifestyle changes,” Seeley explained.

“This program is amazing,” said second-year PNWU medical student Alan Boyd. "It shows what is possible in communities where there is an undeserved population in terms of access to a primary care physician like in the Yakima Valley.”

Instead of simply lecturing participants on healthy lifestyle choices, Boyd and his fellow classmates use their classes to facilitate discussions with local community members. In doing so, they’ve discovered that many of the best solutions come from the participants themselves.

“When the participants come up the solutions on their own it, empowers them and helps them adhere to the changes they choose to make,” said Boyd. “Having the experience of shadowing and facilitating these classes has taught me things about medicine that I could not have learned in any medical school text book.”

Seeley reflected that sentiment.

“Learning from the individuals in these classes has enabled me to be better equipped in helping my future patients make positive lifestyle changes,” she explained. “This program is empowering and truly makes a difference in the lives of all those who participate.”