‘Mindful Physicians’ aim to know patients’ whole stories 1055

MORGANTOWN — As a longtime volunteer usher at WVU’s Creative Arts Center, medical student Ogaga Urhie sees a lot of plays. So he wasn’t really seeking a revelation when he happened to watch a particular performance in the fall of 2016.

But he got one anyway: An insight into practicing medicine that goes beyond the boundaries of medicine itself. The insight led him to form a student group called Of the Mindful Physician to explore that greater realm.

The play was David Mamet’s “Race,” put on by the School of Theatre & Dance, about a bigotry-tainted investigation and legal defense of a murder suspect.

He was a second-year medical student at the time.

Individually, he said, the subtle elements of the story didn’t necessarily make sense. It was only taken together that they formed the full story.

“I’m guessing many patients have their own stories to tell but no one asks them for their stories.”

That’s how he became interested in listening to what other people have to say and formed the group.

Its initial aim was to expose students to issues patients face outside the medical setting that influence how they interact with healthcare. But the purpose grew, to discover the contributions of other disciplines toward health and healthcare, and to explore how the arts and humanities can help build stronger relationships with patients.

That mindfulness, he said, is important in the 20-minute patient visit model that drives much of healthcare.

“I think that given the pace at which we have to see patients we can miss things, we can forget to ask things — go to the story. With the pace we can just miss opportunities.”

Group meetings acquaint students with patients, with other health care providers and with professionals in other fields who help people in other ways.

“I think having that knowledge in the back of their mind would make them more prone to seeing those opportunities and not missing them.”

Presenters have opened their minds to such topics as music therapy; hippotherapy; eating disorders during pregnancy; death and mortality; addiction, recovery and reintegration into college life; animal therapy; homelessness and healthcare; and domestic violence and healthcare.

ALS patients came and shared their perspectives on living with that disease.

Group members also do volunteer work in fields that contribute to health care but not directly in the realm of medicine. Most recently they’ve lent hands to the Hearts of Gold therapy dog nonprofit — holding a fundraiser and building a playpen for puppies.

“What can a physician do? We’ve had that question many times,” Urhie said. And the answer from the presenters has always been, “We want you to know what we do so that when the time comes that you need us, you know where we are.”

First-year medical student Farha Khan has been involved since the beginning. She met Urhie, she said, during her first week of medical school at an involvement fair. His message clicked.

“I don’t think health care is a solitary thing,” she said. A doctor can’t just diagnose, hand them their medicine and send them on. “Everything that a patient goes through is part of their life. We are just one aspect of that. … It’s in the name itself. It’s about mindfulness.”

A person with a movement disorder, for instance, may need exercise, but that doesn’t address how that patient needs to get there, she said. Of the Mindful Physician helps them identify areas where a patient might need additional help.

“OMP sets up a really nice paradigm,” she said. “I think OMP is all about that social, emotional, mental, environmental aspect of medicine.” You’re not just dealing with a patient but a person.

Urhie and Khan aren’t alone in their vision. Clay Marsh, WVU vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences, has preached that broader view and commends the group for its work.

“Medical students must learn the fundamentals of science and technology to become capable and skilled care providers,” he said. “They must also nurture a compassionate relationship with their patients, and connecting through the avenue of the arts and humanities provides an opportunity for mutual understanding and respect which can facilitate better communication and ultimately better care.”

Also with that view in mind, said Health Sciences spokeswoman Tara Scatterday, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is offering a new minor in medical humanities and health studies. The program’s description says it “teaches the social and cultural contexts of health, illness and medicine. It demonstrates how perspectives of the humanities and social sciences can help future health care participants — patients and professionals alike — think of health and medicine as more than just science.”

Asked about the 20-minute visit model and the possibility of a culture change among providers, Urhie talked about teamwork and physicians learning to see themselves as leading a team that extends beyond medicine. The group’s outside presenters can help that.

“If they are going to take on the role of leaders, they are going to have to know who all the other members of the team are,” he said. Many people, inside and outside healthcare, have roles to play in the issues patients face.

The group has morphed since Urhie first founded it, he said. Last semester it was just for medical school students. This year, meetings are open to all. They typically draw five to seven people, with a couple of them being med students.

The next step he wants to pursue is to take the group out of the medical school and make it more accessible to all of Health Sciences by putting it under the auspices to the Interprofessional Education office. It would still run by students, but with representatives from each Health Sciences school.

Urhie himself will be stepping out soon. During his second year in medical school he took a break to pursue a master’s degree in clinical research. Next fall, he resumes medical school with a clinical rotation in Charleston. So he’s hoping that by the end of this year, capable hands will step forward to take over the group and keep its mission going.

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Low pay, major problem for WVU BOG 253

MORGANTOWN — WVU classified staff numbers are shrinking while employee pay is failing to adequately grow, the Board of Governors’ (BOG) classified staff representative told her BOG colleagues Friday morning.

The classified staff tally was 2,863 in 2014, 2,604 in 2016, and 2,241 this year, said Lisa Martin, senior special event coordinator for university events in the president’s office.

“This is an alarming amount considering the university continues to grow,” she said.

The staff includes 2,052 people on the main campus, 94 at WVU Tech in Beckley and 95 at Potomac State. Some are part-time, others are full-time. They are service workers, facilities workers, police officers, teachers and dining services workers.

While many factors have contributed to the loss, Martin said, low pay is one of the major problems. “We cannot maintain quality staff with the standards we have today. We’re losing and will continue to lose people to other employers.”

Annual classified salaries, she said, range from $18,477 to $76,908.

The pay scale, she said, must be fair, and provide yearly increases to bring employees into market range and offset income erosion caused by cost-of-living inflation.

Martin acknowledged that a new pay structure has been unveiled, and many will get an increase. However, to draw new talent, new hires are coming in at a higher starting wage while existing employees are still playing catch-up.

“Imagine finding out a new employee is making more than you even though you’ve been here much longer and have more experience,” Martin said.

The inequities won’t be fixed overnight but WVU is heading the right direction with the new structure, she said. “Regardless, we can do better and must do better for our classified staff.”

If staff reductions continue, she said, “How will West Virginia University keep up with the demands of the increasing student population and constant upkeep of our beautiful campuses?”

WVU President E. Gordon Gee acknowledged Martin’s concerns and praised the staff members for their work. The new pay structure, he said, reflects WVU’s determination to hire staff and faculty at market rates. “We made a huge mistake for a long period of time of not doing that.”

The new structure for classified employees reflects a process of moving toward performance recognition, he said, and he thanked staff for not resisting or trying to block the change. It’s leading to positive results for all.

Moving forward, Gee said, WVU will “continue to focus on “getting the right staff to the right place … with the right pay.”

Other BOG business

Barbara Boyd, WVU Tech Classified Staff Council president, updated the BOG on the move from the Montgomery campus to Beckley.

It’s a much smaller campus she said. “Finding rooms has been tremendously hard.”

But that is part of something more positive that offers tremendous opportunity: Enrollment is growing on the new campus. They have two rooms that will hold 100 students and this fall will have one that holds 50. “We’re severely hurting for computer labs,” an important issue at a tech school.

Boyd told the BOG that 50 percent of the classified employees chose not to move to Beckley, preferring to retire or seek work in the Kanawha Valley. “We’ve lost a lot of knowledge. … It’s been a tremendous challenge.”

The BOG honored former classified staff member Dixie Martinelli, who retired in January and stepped down from her BOG post.

Martin, her successor, told the BOG that Martinelli left a big hole to fill. “I think even Wonder Woman would have a hard time.”

Martinelli accepted a hand-carved wooden plaque from the BOG and said, “It was a great opportunity for me to represent the wonderful individuals. … I miss them.”

The BOG authorized WVU to enter into a lease agreement with WVU Hospitals for land now occupied by and adjacent to the Medical Center Apartments. The apartments will be demolished to make room for a 400-space parking lot. In exchange for covering demolition costs, WVU Hospitals will lease the land at a minimal cost.

This action was part of the consent agenda unanimously approved as a whole by the BOG.

The Morgantown Vet Center hosts education fair 133

MORGANTOWN — The Morgantown Vet Center on Commerce Drive, Westover, held its first education fair Friday.

Various services from the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, and community partners discussed services available to veterans and caregivers.

Some of the services presented were home-based primary care, homeless services, compensated work therapy, caregiver support programs, legal services, diabetes/nutrition education and more.

The Morgantown Vet Center is at 40 Commerce Drive, Suite 101, Westover, Wesmon Center. Phone: 304-292-7535.

The center is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays.

It offers primary care, Tele-Mental Health, lab testing, diagnostics, X-ray, immunizations and preventive health services for veterans in the Mon County area.

WVU hosts first-ever IDEA Hub Demo Day 94

MORGANTOWN — Maybe it’s because it was held in the sleek, contemporary confines of the Evansdale Crossings complex. WVU’s first-ever IDEA Hub Demo Day on Thursday did have a chrome-and-glass feel about it.

The school’s Office of the Provost created the IDEA Hub in 2015 as a platform for showcasing the creative collaborations between professors, students and others from the Morgantown community and region.

Inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs need apply.

The Hub’s built-in experts are there with resources and expertise to help the startup, well, start up.

There were student-created video game pitches, customized “stomp pads” for snowboards (to make exiting the lift that much easier) and interactive display after interactive display.

The high-tech stopped when Hub-goers hit the 5th floor.

There, it wasn’t artificial. It was organic.

Primordial, even.

That was where the landscape architecture students of Vaike Haas were stationed, to talk about their master plan proposal for the Core Arboretum.

Haas is a professor, researcher and activist known for her work, which melds urban climes to green spaces.

She’s an avid bicyclist who in recent weeks has also taken up the mantle of pedestrian safety, following a spate of accidents involving students struck by cars in crosswalks.

The students in her Landscape Design 331, 351 and 360 classes have taken that into account with some of the things they have in mind for the arboretum.

“I’m proud of their work,” Haas said. “I’m impressed by their ideas.”

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of months,” said Jack Bauer, a landscape architecture major from Huntington.

“The idea was to incorporate some additions without making it seem so jarring,” he said.

Arboretum dreams

Their suggestions include flora-and-fauna covered roundabouts and walkways — plus other ambiant and aesthetic turns.

“All of this is real-world,” Bauer’s classmate, Donovan Price said.

“You could actually do this.”

Price is a Washington, D.C., native who moved with his parents to Martinsburg when he was a youngster.

He knows all about real-world, urban encroachment: Martinsburg is now officially part of the Washington Metro area, with all the green-eating subdivisions to prove it.

“All the farms, all the orchards are gone,” Price said.

That’s what Earl L. Core didn’t want to see happen in 1948, when WVU bought two large family farms to build the Evansdale campus.

Core, a respected botanist and then-chairman of biology, successful lobbied for 91 acres of old-growth forest that made up the farmland.

The arboretum that now bears the late educator’s name is tucked behind the WVU Coliseum.

Zach Fowler, also a WVU biologist and the arboretum’s current director, said he can’t wait to explore the possibilities.

The Hub suggestions, he said, could make the arboretum even more accessible to the community.

“We’ve never had a master plan,” he said, as he regarded the proposals.

“You look at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Virginia, and you see they’re doing so much more with their arboretums. We’re dreaming big here.”