Interdisciplinary Care Model Meets the Challenges of Urban Health


Some of the interdisciplinary team of students and faculty serving the community at United Community Clinic (see bottom for students/faculty identification).

Philadelphia — Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it is becoming more and more evident that it takes an interdisciplinary team of health professionals to comprehensively meet the public’s health needs.

In a microcosm of innovative public healthcare delivery, a dedicated team of students and their faculty from Penn’s schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing, Social Policy & Practice, and Arts & Sciences gather each Monday evening to transform the basement of First African Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia into the United Community Clinic (UCC). There, they meet with residents of the Parkside community and provide dental screenings, physical exams, optometry care, health education and referrals, for free. They also learn how to work together to promote greater health in the community.

“The greatest joy is working with other healthcare professionals to make an impact in the community with simple actions, such as delivering oral hygiene instructions and promoting oral cancer awareness, while developing a comfortable professional relationship among the different health disciplines,” says Giselle Galanto (D ’15), one of the student coordinators from Penn Dental Medicine at the clinic.

Preparing a New Breed of Healthcare Practitioners

“For us, this clinic offers an exciting opportunity to work with faculty and students from Penn to develop a model of interdisciplinary care that makes a difference for an entire community,” says Joan Gluch, RDH, PhD, Interim Division Chief of Community Oral Health at Penn Dental Medicine. “We are demonstrating to our students that, as professionals, we are better when we work together and provide more comprehensive care to our patients.”

To meet the disparate health needs of the community it serves, UCC is supervised by academic leaders who have a passion for teaching and providing interdisciplinary care: Maureen George, PhD, RN, AE-C of the School of Nursing; Heather Klusaritz, PhD, MSW, of the School of Social Policy & Practice; Brian Work, MD, MPH, of the Perelman School of Medicine; and Eric Goren, MD, also of Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Goren serves as the clinic’s co-director and faculty advisor, and his work earned him Penn’s 2014 One Health Award, in recognition of his exemplary contributions to expanding interdisciplinary education and improving healthcare.

“I know that this multi-disciplinary care approach is making a difference for these patients, in addition to providing a valuable and essential learning experience for the students,” says Dr. Goren.

Meeting the Needs for Holistic, Community Health

For Parkside residents, the clinic is an oasis in an area that has little to offer in terms of healthcare that is accessible to its mostly under- and uninsured population. Community members come for help in managing chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes; receive support for mental health issues; obtain assistance with food and housing issues; and learn about self-care practices that will keep them healthy. UCC serves approximately 530 patients a year.

“I remember one of my first dental screenings I did at the clinic. I met a middle-aged man who seemed very motivated to learn about dental hygiene and oral cancer, especially because we had a free toothbrush and toothpaste for him to take home,” recalls Galanto. “As I went along my usual script, I realized he had never heard of dental floss. I will never forget that man for he taught me a lot – he helped me realize that the public’s dental education should not be taken for granted, and that we can have a true impact with our simple acts every week.”

Students at Penn Dental Medicine get involved at UCC as part of the service learning component required as part of their academic course work. UCC is one of five University-based interdisciplinary care clinics where Penn Dental Medicine students provide oral health education, dental screenings, and referral for dental care; all second-year students are required to complete at least 12 hours of experience at one of these sites or other social service agencies as part of the service learning curriculum. Along with Galanto, the graduating student coordinators at UCC from Penn Dental Medicine are Isaac Chung (D’15) and Lindsey Rubino (D’15). The Class of 2016 student coordinators are Riddhi Desai (D16), Laura Koo Min Chee (D’16), and Leiza Walia (D’16).

Collaboration Enhances Care

Students who manage the care in the clinic learn right away that in the real world of public health, one provider’s area of health expertise does not meet all the needs of any given patient. The man who presents with heart disease may also have tooth decay that contributes to health problems; or the woman who has difficulty managing her diabetes may also lack the resources to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. Together, the students are helping each other better understand and appreciate the roles and contributions that each discipline contributes to the care delivery experience.

“I believe that in order to provide the most effective and comprehensive care for our patients, we have to address the problems from all angles. At Penn Dental, we are taught to look beyond our patient’s mouth and rather assess all of our patients dynamic medical conditions and other constraints.” says Walia.

“By working together to serve the health needs of the community, the practice of each discipline is enhanced,” adds Dr. Gluch, “and all of the students better understand their unique place on an effective healthcare team.”

In the photo: (left to right) Heather Klusaritz, PhD, MSW, faculty advisor from the School of Social Policy & Practice; Rae Wohl, a School of Social Policy & Practice student; Tom Rubinstein, a Penn Dental Medicine student; Laura Koo Min Chee, a Penn Dental Medicine student; Michael Furdyna, a Penn Medicine student; Leiza Walia, a Penn Dental Medicine student; Rameen Vafa, a Penn Engineering student; Boryana Dimitrova, a Penn Dental Medicine student; Claire Anagnostopulos, a Penn Nursing student; and R. Adam Kellis, MD, a faculty advisor from Penn Medicine.

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