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New Health Institute debuts this semester

MSU Denver departments join forces to respond to changing health care needs and an increasingly diverse patient population.

By Lindsey Coulter

January 21, 2019

Stethoscope, woman speaking, healthy foodMetropolitan State University of Denver recently received a five-year, $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish an innovative new model of education and student support. Debuting this semester, MSU Denver’s Health Institute will educate a unique 47-student cohort and address Colorado’s evolving workforce needs.

The University’s health-related programs are already a big draw for students. Ten different departments offer a total of 23 health majors — representing more than a quarter of the total enrollment — and approximately 1,229 students are minoring in health-related subjects across 12 different programs.

“The first thing we did was pull the 10 different departments together to strengthen their identity to help them better collaborate,” said Jenn Capps, dean, College of Professional Studies.

Next, University leaders took inspiration from the Hospitality Learning Center and the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building, which each developed public-private partnerships to help the University respond to an industry need.

“The next big industry in need of qualified workers is health,” Capps said. “We’re trying to work with industry to figure out how to solve some health career needs in Colorado.”

One health care workforce need MSU Denver is specifically poised to address: diversity. As the Institute specifically aims to serve students from underrepresented economic and education backgrounds, leaders selected diverse, veteran, non-traditional, Pell-elible, first-generation and transfer students to fill the Health Institute’s first cohorts. Of 250 applicants, 16 of the 47 students admitted are age 24 and older and/or are veterans on a track specifically designed for non-traditional students. Another track serves 31 transfer students in two identical cohorts.

The Institute’s four pillars include:

  • Student support and life-design advising
  • The whole-person approach to wellness
  • Culturally responsive curriculum
  • Industry partnerships and workforce diversification

Supporting students is accomplished through expanded advising services and through the Health Navigator structure, which matches students with one of three newly hired Health Career Navigators. Part advisor and part job coach, navigators connect students with scholarships, resources, job shadowing, mentoring, potential employers and post-graduate study opportunities.

“The students are excited to explore different healthcare pathways and career options,” according to Health Navigators Lauren Jones, Holly Schmitt and Paige Mills. “Their enthusiasm is infectious, [and they have a strong] desire to form connections with peers interested in health on-campus and also with professionals in the field.

Students on both tracks will benefit from curricula that focuses on exposing them to different health care career opportunities, connecting them with experiences, and teaching them about health equity with the idea that they can use their future roles to advance it. It also promotes the whole-person approach to wellness, building on evidence-based research that shows 80 percent of illnesses can be impacted or prevented by lifestyle choices related to stress reduction, sleep, nutrition and exercise.

MSU Denver’s diverse student body is also positioned to bring more culturally responsive care that values equity and access to Colorado’s healthcare industries. For example, Health Institute students participate in the physician-developed Healthcare Interest Program, which aims to bring diversity to the medical professions through mentoring and hospital experiences. These real-world experiences can also help students who had initially decided to pursue nursing to expand their career horizons and fill other high-need positions. MSU Denver’s highly competitive nursing program admits just 24 traditional students and 48 accelerated students annually, but receives 250-300 applications on average.

“Many students can’t get into the nursing program, meaning our inclusive institution becomes very exclusive,” Capps said. “Part of the grant is opening up opportunities for students and educating them on the numerous health care opportunities available. There are huge workforce needs in mental health, nutrition, speech language pathology, addictions, primary care and elder care — and positions in rural communities often go unfilled. The grant specifically aims to increase student interest and engagement in these fields — not necessarily in traditional doctor, nurse or dentist roles.

Capps also pointed to research showing that, on average, 16 professionals support the work of every one physician, including physician’s assistants, radiology technicians, billing professionals and more. “I want [the Health Institute] to be about the other 16,” Capps said.

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