Interdisciplinary care is a hallmark of cancer care at MD Anderson. Teams of specialists care for patients from cancer diagnosis to treatment and beyond, and many of those specialists – medical and nonmedical – are trained right here.
“Our patients have unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs,” says Diane Bodurka, M.D. “The more your training is directed towards oncology patients and their needs and expectations, the better care you’ll be able to provide. There are both obvious and subtle differences between oncology and general health care.”
Learning by doing
Even though non-physician trainees are learning different aspects of cancer care than physicians and nurses, it doesn’t mean they can forgo rigorous training. Most of our fellowships are nationally accredited and must adhere to high standards of excellence. Many students go on to take board certification exams at the end of their programs.
“We’ve been accredited since 1973,” says Chaplain Gale Kennebrew, D.Min., director of Spiritual Care and Education. “Our students spend at least 300 hours in clinical training, learning by doing. When they complete our program, they’re able to provide support to all people, but especially those with the complex issues surrounding a cancer diagnosis.”
They also receive training that crosses all types of faiths and belief systems, enabling them to connect with diverse patient populations and listen to what’s important to them, Kennebrew says. Chaplains serve as a vital part of MD Anderson’s care teams, working not only with patients but also with caregivers and other providers.
“Patient care takes an entire team,” says Kennebrew. “When a patient is in crisis, everyone’s involved, and our chaplains provide support to everyone in the room.”
Training to be the best
Each year, a dozen pharmacists, selected from over 100 applicants, come here as residents to train in pharmacy practice and specialize in oncology, critical care, infectious diseases and pharmacy administration. These pharmacy school graduates are drawn to our accredited programs because of the level of clinical pharmacy practice, quality of our training programs and the vast experience of our pharmacists on staff, who serve as highly skilled trainers for our residents.
“We’re a world leader in oncology, so we want to train the best pharmacists in oncology as well,” says Judy Chase, Pharm.D., director, Clinical Pharmacy Services. “We’ve been a leader in pharmacy post-graduate training since the 1970s. From a resident’s point of view, our diverse patient population and large number of clinical pharmacists to learn from is a huge draw.”
The trainees finish their programs with a better understanding of the technical skills needed for their pharmacy specialties, as well as how their work impacts the patient.
“Many of them have such good experiences working with our patients that they stay. About half of our pharmacy residents join MD Anderson as full-time clinical pharmacists afterwards,” Chase says.
The teacher as student
That oncology-specific experience is also a draw for aspiring neuropsychologists.
MD Anderson’s clinical neuropsychologists specialize in identifying, diagnosing and treating changes in cancer patients’ cognitive function, behavior and mood, and our fellows learn alongside them in the clinics. Many of the patients they see have brain tumors, but not all. The neuropsychologists also assess and help mitigate chemobrain, a side effect seen in some patients undergoing chemotherapy that affects how they think and perceive the world.
“Having started my clinical training at MD Anderson, it’s particularly satisfying to continue the legacy of education and training in oncology,” says neuro-psychologist Mariana Bradshaw, Ph.D. “Working with trainees is an excellent way for those of us involved in supervision to ensure we’re constantly learning and keeping abreast of the most recent research and best clinical practices.“
Bodurka points out that education benefits not only the fellow and the teacher but also the patient.
“If we want to truly advance as providers, we need to embrace every component of our care teams and continually educate them to our high standards of excellence,” she says. “All of these members have an important role to play in serving our patients.”
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