Striving to provide comprehensive and compassionate care

Lacey Gowdy smiling off to the side with her white coat over her arm

T

hrough the Scholarly Reflection and Concentration Capstone course, students in the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine are able to tackle some of the most prevalent issues facing modern patient care. One example is caring for patients with disabilities.

When Lacey Gowdy, MD ‘20 learned that patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) often didn’t receive the same level of care as other populations, she felt compelled to investigate. She discovered how underrepresented the IDD population was in medical education, and made it the focus of her capstone to reverse this trend—starting with the Netter curriculum.

“It was an area that I wanted to be more adept in, and I thought that other students could benefit too,” Gowdy said.

The capstone enables students like Gowdy to devote four years to impactful research and scholarship on subjects they are most passionate about, with ongoing mentorship from faculty and clinical physicians. For Gowdy, that passion was ensuring that Netter’s students had the tools to provide comprehensive and compassionate care to the IDD population.

“Lacey approached this with a single-minded determination to make a difference,” recalled Gowdy’s mentor, Dr. Traci Marquis-Eydman, associate professor of medical sciences.

Gowdy discovered that physicians are taught in medical school to focus mostly on disease pathologies connected to a patient’s disability. They overlook physical fitness, emotional well-being, proper diet, sexual health, and other aspects. This can result in gaps in the continuum of care for IDD patients, and potentially negative clinical experiences.

“There is too much emphasis on the patient’s disability itself, as opposed to their overall wellness,” Gowdy said.

Interviews with Netter faculty and students also echoed a desire for more training on how to provide care for patients with IDD. In response, Gowdy worked with Marquis-Eydman to develop an experiential, fourth-year clinical elective in partnership with Oak Hill, Connecticut's largest private provider of services to people with disabilities.

The four-week course enables Netter students to engage with individuals of various age groups and disability types in community-based settings, increasing their knowledge, skills and comfort in caring for individuals with IDD.

"This covers the spectrum, from pediatric to geriatric, and our students jump right in with both feet," said Marquis-Eydman.

Students rotate through several key content areas at Oak Hill, including adaptive sports; fitness and recreation; assistive technologies; healthy relationships and sexuality education; and rehabilitation and employment.

The course, launched in the summer of 2019, has received incredibly positive feedback from participants. One Netter student, who worked with young children in one of Oak Hill's summer camps, called the experience "incredibly valuable toward her journey to becoming a pediatrician."

"It's amazing to hear from students about how it will change the way they practice in the future," Gowdy said.

The elective will be offered again in the 2020-21 year, thanks to a $25,000 grant Gowdy helped secure from the National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine. Marquis-Eydman and Gowdy worked together to secure one of the seven NCIDM grants issued nationwide.

Marquis-Eydman hopes the elective will become permanently integrated into Netter's curriculum, along with additional material on IDD education that Gowdy helped develop for years one and two.

"It has been such a privilege to work alongside Lacey," Marquis-Eydman said. "She not only developed this incredible learning opportunity for her colleagues but also nurtured a wonderful relationship with partners in the community."

Gowdy was to present her capstone alongside her peers at the medical school's Capstone Scholars Day on March 13. Despite the event's cancelation, Gowdy was honored with the Scholarship on Medical Innovation and Education Award for work. Other students to win awards included Kevin Wu MD '20, Carolyn Dubeau MD '20, Abhishek Thakur MD '20, Joshua Bia MD '20, and Ashley Trinh MD '20.

Marquis-Eydman also received the award for Capstone Mentor of the Year—following a sparkling recommendation from Gowdy.

"Traci was a wonderful mentor," Gowdy said. "She gave me full autonomy while providing the guidance I needed, and I wouldn't have been successful without her."

Gowdy will soon begin her residency at the University of Vermont in Burlington, where she will specialize in pediatric medicine. She does so knowing that she has left behind a legacy that will benefit not only future Netter students but the patients they will one day treat.

"I'm excited about the changes we've made, and so proud to have shared in the continuum of care that exists for the IDD population," she said.