High school students explore health care during ASU summer program

July 30, 2014

Allison Sorgeloos gently moves the Wii remote in her hand, but the marble on the screen she’s controlling rolls off the platform. The object of the game she’s playing is to make very precise movements to roll a marble through a maze and collect gems. While Sorgeloos and her friends, students at the Summer Health Institute @ ASU, are having fun competing, they are also honing skills they could someday use to save lives.

“The reason they’re playing this game is because it has a direct correlation to the hand movements of laparoscopic surgeons,” explained Joaquin Santa Cruz, simulation program coordinator for the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. “Our medical students actually use this game to practice.” high school students practicing intubation on a dummy Download Full Image

Twenty four rising high school seniors attended the weeklong camp led by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. They stayed with counselors at Taylor Place, ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus residential hall. The camp was fully funded by the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority and Banner Health.

When choosing students for this program, the selection committee considered not only those who had high GPAs (the campers’ average GPA was over 4.0), but also those who showed a genuine curiosity and passion for health and health care. This was the first Summer Health Institute @ ASU with more than 230 applicants. Students traveled to ASU from four counties in Arizona, as well as California, Michigan, Illinois and Colorado. Alison Essary, director of student affairs for the College of Health Solutions, said the program’s goal was to select students that reflected the population of Arizona.

“We want to prepare the health care workforce of the future, as well as a health care workforce that reflects the population it will serve,” she said.

Learning skills to save lives

Students participated in a variety of interprofessional health-related activities. Their mornings were spent with Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona faculty and staff for three hours of simulation at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, learning in the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix Sim Center. They practiced skills such as suturing, intubation, ultrasounds, dissections and IV placement. Students also received certification in continuous chest compressions and toured Arizona State University’s cadaver lab.

“It’s been an incredible learning experience,” said Sorgeloos. “I’ve learned more about what it really means to be in health care than I ever did volunteering in a hospital. I’ve met people who have inspired me to become greater, smarter and work harder.”

In the afternoons, students participated in "Mini Health Institutes," where they learned about topics like leadership, traditions in medicine, the U.S. health care system, interprofessionalism and careers in health. Students’ evenings were spent in professional development sessions where they learned how to work with librarians and how to apply for colleges, along with presentations by students in the health professions. For students like Mariam Gutierrez, the institute was a great way to learn about medical professions that they had not considered before.

“It’s been helpful because we get to learn about different health careers instead of just a doctor or a nurse,” she said. “The camp got me looking into becoming a physician assistant.”

The culmination of the program came on Friday when four groups each presented on an assigned disease: cystic fibrosis, Prader-Willi syndrome, Rett syndrome or sickle cell disease. Students first had to diagnose their patients, and then make a PowerPoint presentation on the diagnosed disease. The presentations had to include disease symptoms, research and promising treatments. Presentation slides could only consist of images, figures, video and digital media. Each group presented for 15 minutes in front of a panel that included a physician assistant, health science librarian and the director of the camp. After they presented, the groups had five minutes to answer the panel’s questions. A winner was picked based on which group was able to effectively present their disease and answer the panel’s questions.

“The people in my group have been really helpful,” said Sorgeloos. “It’s really cool how we all came together to look at the symptoms, break down the information that we had, diagnose a patient and provide some care for her, even if she is fictional.”

Working together toward success

Just as the students worked together, many organizations came together to create the Summer Health Institute experience. The Northern Arizona University Physician Assistant program and the University of Arizona medical school provided space, faculty and students to help educate the campers. Fortis College dental hygiene program provided lectures on oral health as a public health initiative, as well as fluoride varnish training. Mayo Clinic staff and faculty provided additional support.

Based on the success of this camp, ASU is already looking into holding another next year. They are collecting data from the campers and from camps around the country in order to better inform future programs. Essary says the camp was such a success and the campers were so great that they have to, at the very least, replicate the program next year.

“The campers are terrific,” she said. “They are incredibly motivated, enthusiastic and generous in their time and spirit. We’re fortunate to have them as our inaugural class.”

Gutierrez says the whole experience just reinforced her goals.

“I learned to keep going because it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s all new and it’s all a learning experience.”

Written by: Kaly Nasiff

New research links anxiety to epilepsy-like seizures

July 30, 2014

New research by clinical psychologists from Arizona State University and the United Kingdom has revealed seizures that could be mistaken for epilepsy are linked to feelings of anxiety.

The team of researchers devised a new set of tests to determine whether there was a link between how people interpret and respond to anxiety, and incidences of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES). Nicole Roberts & ASU students Download Full Image

Nicole Roberts, an associate professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, collaborated with colleagues from the University of Lincoln, University of Nottingham and University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. The team’s findings were published in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior.

The researchers used a series of questionnaires and computer tests to determine if a patient regularly avoids situations which might bring on anxiety.

These tests correctly predicted whether a patient had epilepsy or PNES – seizures that can be brought on by threatening situations, sensations, emotions, thoughts or memories – in 83 percent of study participants. Such seizures appear on the surface to be similar to epileptic fits, which are caused by abnormal brain activity.

“This research underscores the fact that PNES is a ‘real’ and disabling disorder with a potentially identifiable pathophysiology,” said Roberts, who directs New College’s Emotion, Culture, and Psychophysiology Laboratory, located on ASU’s West campus. “We need to continue to search for answers, not just in epilepsy clinics, but also in the realm of affective science and complex brain-behavior relationships.”

“PNES can be a very disabling condition, and it is important that we understand the triggers so that we provide the correct care and treatment,” said Lian Dimaro, a clinical psychologist based at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, who served as lead researcher for the study.

“This study was one of the first to bring modern psychological tools of investigation to this problem,” Dimaro said. “The findings support the idea that increasing a person’s tolerance of unpleasant emotions and reducing avoidant behavior may help with treatment, suggesting that patients could benefit from a range of therapies, including acceptance and commitment therapy to help reduce the frequency of seizures, although more research is needed in this area.”

Participants completed questionnaires to determine the level to which they suffered from anxiety, their awareness of their experiences and if they would avoid situations which would make them feel anxious.

They then completed a computer task which required rapid responses to true or false statements. This test was designed to gather data on immediate, or implicit, beliefs about anxiety. Participants also answered questions about common physical complaints that may have no medical explanation, also called somatic symptoms. These can include things like gastrointestinal problems, tiredness and back pain.

Results showed that those with PNES reported significantly more somatic symptoms than others in the study, as well as avoidance of situations which might make them anxious. The group with PNES also scored significantly higher on a measure of how aware they were of their anxiety compared with the control group.

The test subjects were 30 adults with PNES, 25 with epilepsy and 31 with no reported history of seizures who served as a nonclinical control group.

The researchers suggest that including tests to determine levels of anxiety and avoidance behavior may enable health professionals to make earlier diagnosis, and develop more effective intervention plans.

“Epileptic seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, while most PNES are thought to be a consequence of complex psychological processes that manifest in physical attacks,” said David Dawson, a research clinical psychologist from the University of Lincoln.

“It is believed that people suffering with PNES may have difficulty actively engaging with anxiety – a coping style known as experiential avoidance,” Dawson said. “We wanted to examine whether it was possible to make a clear link between seizure frequency and how people experience and manage anxiety. Our study is another step in understanding PNES, which could ultimately lead to better treatment and, therefore, patient outcomes in the future.”

Roberts, who received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, focuses her research on the study of emotion and on the cultural and biological forces that shape emotional responses. Examples include investigating how ethnicity and culture influence emotional displays and experiences; how the daily hassles of life, such as job stress and sleep deprivation, impact emotion regulation among individuals and couples; and how the emotion system breaks down in patients with psychopathology (such as PNES and post-traumatic stress disorder) or neurological dysfunction (such as epilepsy).

Roberts’ areas of teaching specialization include introductory psychology, abnormal psychology, multicultural issues in clinical psychology, and supervision of undergraduate and graduate research and clinical practicum experiences. She joined the faculty of ASU’s New College in 2006. New College, the core college on ASU’s West campus, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology.