The Pathways in Health in Medicine curriculum, directed by Colleen Cagno, MD, associate professor, in partnership with Julie Armin, PhD, assistant professor and director of COM–Tucson’s Health Disparities Discipline, facilitated a presentation on Patients Experiencing Mental Health Issues and Health Disparities in the U.S. for first-year medical students. The session once again featured Barry Morenz, MD, associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, and welcomed Andy Bernstein, PhD, clinical director, and Cheryl Glass, MBA-HCM, director—both from FCM's RISE Health and Wellness Center.
What truly made this year’s training different was the inclusion of three people with lived experience of mental illnesses, two of whom were alumni from the RISE Health and Wellness Center (aka Camp Wellness). All three spoke about their experiences as patients in the behavioral health system, answering questions around what led them to seek services in the first place, what different kinds of diagnoses they were given, how stigma and “behavioral health profiling” by healthcare providers have negatively affected them, and what they found most helpful in their treatment by behavioral health providers.
“Being treated like anyone else,” “with respect,” and “not like we’re different just because we have a mental health diagnosis,” were among responses of the panelists. Another was the importance of listening to patients when they describe the negative impact that certain medications have on them, rendering it difficult or impossible to continue taking them. And finally, the value of “integrated care” was mentioned, i.e., having providers recognize and understand the mutual influences and interconnections between patients’ physical health and their mental health.
The patient panel session was led by third-year medical student Layne Jordan, who demonstrated a sensitive, affirming, and respectful nature of the questioning. Including community members in the session contributed to humanizing the students’ experience of people with behavioral health issues, expanding their understanding and appreciation of them as whole people—an attitude which will accompany these students as they progress through the rest of their medical education and training.