Matt Wild is battling ALS and knows what’s coming.
He has nothing but praise for the treatment professionals that the U.S. Veteran’s Administration and his personal physician have assembled for him. But it was an experience with health science students at WSU Spokane in February that left him feeling optimistic about the future of medical care.
“They brought together students from different aspects of the health sciences,” recalls Wild, who was diagnosed in early 2015 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative condition often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Each team was able to look at my case with this cross-over of training and expertise.”
The result was an educational experience for Wild and the students alike.
Each of the three teams, consisting of students from WSU and Eastern Washington University, included treatment and therapy recommendations that in some cases went beyond what Wild’s medical team had established. He’s since discussed some of them with his own doctors and already has begun an aqua therapy regimen suggested by the students to help preserve the range of motion in his limbs.
In the months ahead he’ll undertake another recommendation: Recording his own voice saying hundreds of words and common phrases that will be uploaded into specialty software for when the disease eventually silences his vocal chords. Text-to-audio devices operated by eye movements enable ALS patients to continue communicating electronically.
“It was very encouraging,” Wild, a U.S. military veteran from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho says of his experience during the annual Health Care Team Challenge. “This kind of cross-over approach is the future of medicine.”
Indeed, interprofessional cooperation has become a key part of WSU’s health science curriculum. Each year, students are given a chance to practice their ability to work cooperatively by competing as teams against each other and includes up to 10 health and medical fields ranging from nursing and pharmacy to physical therapy and family practice medicine.
Faculty members, along with practicing medical professionals, judge the treatment plans each team develops.
Among those participating in this year’s competition was third-year pharmacy student Kelly Artiga.
Like many of her fellow students, she was drawn by the focus on building clinical skills key to taking on broader primary care roles once she enters the workforce.
“I’d started out wanting to do community pharmacy,” Artiga explains. But then she landed an internship in Walla Walla at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, which is among a growing number of hospitals and healthcare centers using pharmacists to augment their patient care teams.
“They had me doing rotations and making rounds, working directly with the patients,” Artiga recalls. “And that’s when I realized this is how I want to use my training.”
Fellow third year pharmacy student James Robeson also saw the competition as a way to begin preparing for enhanced medical roles that various healthcare professionals are likely to be performing in the years ahead.
“I kind of was already drawn to the clinical side,” Robeson says, noting that pharmacy training has been significantly expanded in recent years to include greater focus on overall health and medical science. “I didn’t go through all of this school and education to count pills and check labels.”
Typically, the university uses actors and actresses who have been briefed by faculty on how to behave and respond to questions during the practice exams.
This year, though, Wild’s willingness to open up his medical history and let students practice developing treatment plans with an actual patient gave the competition an unusual level of authenticity.
Wild, after learning about the annual competition, didn’t hesitate when organizers asked if he’d be willing to serve as the practice case. He opened up his medical files, sat steadfastly through a series of “exams,” and quietly hoped that his efforts would help improve ALS awareness and services within the next generation of healthcare leaders.
The students didn’t disappoint.
“They did their research and came up with some great ideas,” says Wild, who formed a nonprofit advocacy and awareness foundation called Matt’s Place after learning of his diagnosis. “It can be tough to raise awareness about ALS because there’s no long-lasting treatment. But from what I saw in those students I’m very encouraged about where things are headed.”