By Kayla Wiles, Columnist
President Elizabeth Davis’s Furman Advantage announcement last month unveiled an initiative to better connect students with the Greenville community. For students pursuing health careers, this connection is the new Institute for the Advancement of Community Health (IACH).
According to IACH executive director and biology professor Eli Hestermann, this new institute will consolidate programs already at Furman — such as research with professors, the health career advising office and the Clinical Medical Ethics course — into a center that makes each of these services and opportunities more accessible to students.
The institute solidifies a partnership with the Greenville Health System (GHS) that began three years ago, adding to the hospital’s other academic partnerships with the University of South Carolina (USC) and Clemson University.
GHS is the first shared academic health center partnering a health care system with multiple universities.
Since heading this partnership in 2014, Hestermann had been thinking of what Furman’s “health center” could be.
“Early on, there was some pressure,” he said. “[USC] has a med school and Clemson is expanding a nursing program through their partnership with GHS. Maybe Furman would like to start a physical therapy school or a physician’s assistant school?”
Establishing a separate school, Hestermann said, wouldn’t have fit Furman’s interdisciplinary education and liberal arts identity.
“The changing nature of health care is going to require a new workforce that is more grounded in things like sociology, psychology, communications, ethics and religion,” Hestermann said. “That’s where Furman’s sweet spot is — it’s not jumping on some existing professional degree program, but really thinking through ‘How do we prepare that health care workforce?’”
GHS advised that Furman gather all its health programs into a single entity so that students and faculty could make the most of the partnership.
“We want to make sure that [the institute] is a win-win for Furman and GHS,” Hestermann said. “On the Furman side, we want to make sure that we’re giving new opportunities to students. GHS is investing in these opportunities to address problems and health issues.”
One idea is Furman students helping out with MyChart, a free online tool provided by GHS’s electronic medical record that enables patients to access all of their appointments, tests, immunizations and prescriptions.
“Only 20 percent of patients who have GHS physicians are signed up for [MyChart],” Hestermann said. “What if we had Furman interns at a doctor’s office with laptops who could help people sign up?”
The establishment of the IACH also gives faculty the opportunity to connect health programs outside of Furman to the university.
Psychology professor Erin Hahn plans to bring the South Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (SC LEND) program to Furman via the university’s partnership with GHS. Starting in fall 2017, this program would train Furman students for careers that work with individuals who have autism.
“Furman students will have the opportunity to participate in training workshops, problem-based learning exercises, clinical observations and community networking activities,” Hahn said. “The program also includes a mentorship component in which students will be paired with advanced trainees whose jobs align with students’ career interests.”
IACH also brings together a medical-legal partnership between Furman, GHS and South Carolina Legal Services as well as community partnerships with LiveWell Greenville and the Greenville Free Clinic.
“Us being part of a shared academic health center is unique for Furman because no other liberal arts college has done this before,” Hestermann said. “I think this is a real opportunity where we can connect [our programs] together.”