Original Date: 01/22/2001
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Sowing Partnerships to Grow a Health System
East Tennessee State University’s Colleges of Medicine and Nursing are key reasons for the economic vitality of the region. They provide critical support to the quality of life for residents and industry. Each has its own set of innovative practices and collaborative services that enhance both the university and the community.
During the early 1970s, the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia Region experienced critical shortages of skilled healthcare workers and health services. By leveraging its partnering strength with the Mountain Home Veteran Affairs Medical Center as well as taking advantage of recently enacted Federal legislation, East Tennessee State University (ETSU) created the Quillen College of Medicine in 1974. The goal of this partnership was to provide healthcare to the people of northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia, as well as meet the needs of the Veteran Affairs Medical Center. The first class of Quillen College of Medicine graduated in 1978, and marked the beginning of set goals established between ETSU and the Mountain Home Veteran Affairs Center. Expansion of these goals was greatly enhanced in 1991 when ETSU received the first of three community-based training grants, obtaining a $9.3 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
Through the Kellogg grant, ETSU expanded its role and began partnering with regional healthcare providers (e.g., clinics, home healthcare, doctors, dentists, hospitals, schools), allowing the University to become a regional force in healthcare. The University used these partnerships as a growth and continuous improvement strategy, and made adjustments to degree programs in medicine, nursing, and public health to reflect the new direction. From the onset, university leadership continually reinforced the message that each department and unit were expected to establish relationships with non-university entities. In addition, these relationships were to be long-term commitments. As part of ETSU’s efforts to provide health services to the communities, students from the Division of Health Sciences participated in community-based learning experiences and in-service learning programs. These experiences and programs allowed medical students to go into the communities and homes with local healthcare providers and assess the true health needs of the people. Instead of treating a patient’s symptom at the local clinic or hospital, students saw first-hand the real underlying reason(s) for the health problem (e.g., behavior induced, environmentally induced). This innovative program of the Rural Primary Care Track organized the curriculum to focus on the practical application of rural healthcare, the special needs of rural communities, and how best to address these needs as a healthcare practitioner. In addition, the communications class is a unique method of teaching students how to effectively communicate with healthcare consumers and healthcare professionals of different disciplines. Students who participated in these programs and experiences have commented that when they graduated from medical school, they felt they had a one- to one-and-a-half year advantage over students who graduated from conventional medical schools.
The Quillen College of Medicine has developed accountability with its community partners, most likely because of ETSU’s successful partnering history with the Mountain Home Veteran Affairs Medical Center. As a result of the partnerships, healthcare access for residents of the region increased from 37% to 65% of the population. Approximately 65% of the Quillen College of Medicine graduates go into primary care training, with 50% of the medical graduates and over 80% of the College of Nursing graduates remaining in the area as practitioners. In addition, nine new nursing centers in eight counties have been established to serve the communities. These centers have allowed underutilized and understaffed hospitals to become obsolete, and brought medical care to the local residents of the region.
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