Albany Medical College students are serving as educators when it comes to quitting smoking as part of Albany Med’s efforts to improve patients’ overall health. It is an experience that benefits the patients, the students and the College.
For the past four years, medical students have served as tobacco cessation facilitators for inpatients as part of the College’s “service learning” requirement for graduation. Students counsel roughly one of every eight Albany Med patients who receive tobacco cessation education. Overall, on average nearly 800 patients who are being treated for any condition seek cessation education annually.
Ingrid Allard, MD, associate dean for community outreach and education, said there is no substitute for the learning that happens through hands-on interaction with patients on complicated issues.
“Educating patients about the social determinants of health such as smoking often elicits very personal discussions that we hope will stay with students for the rest of their professional lives and positively impact how they care for patients in the future,” Dr. Allard said.
Aleena Paul, a second-year student who is serving as a tobacco cessation program facilitator, agrees. “This program gives students an opportunity to interact with patients at a very personal level early in our medical education,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to develop our communications skills with patients and health care workers.”
Students who facilitate tobacco cessation, along with nurses and respiratory therapists, are fully trained in the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ cessation guidelines and participate in a series of role-playing and shadowing sessions with Karen Dylong, coordinator of the tobacco cessation service.
Now Paul is taking the work a step further.
“We had never fully examined our outcomes before, and Aleena wanted to measure the impact we’re having,” Dylong said. She helped Paul conduct a pilot survey that showed the program had a positive impact in encouraging patients to reduce or quit smoking. Paul is working to expand the study to obtain a valid measurement of the program.
“The decision to quit smoking has such a huge impact on overall health,” Paul said. “If we can help just one patient quit, our efforts are worth it.”