DMU, NAMI partner to educate students on mental illness

This spring, DMU became the nation’s first medical school to partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s leading advocacy group for mental illness, to offer NAMI’s provider education program to osteopathic medical students. That led to an invitation to Lisa Streyffeler, Ph.D., assistant professor and chair of behavioral medicine, medical humanities and bioethics, to give a presentation at the National NAMI Conference in New Orleans.

Dr. Streyffeler, NAMI Iowa Executive Director Peggy Huppert and Teri Brister, Ph.D., L.P.C., director of information and support at NAMI National, gave a presentation about DMU’s new pilot to train medical students at the end of their third year. Funded by a grant from the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, the pilot has also received budget support from the state of Iowa. This funding will allow all D.O. students at DMU at the end of their third year to participate in the three-day intensive NAMI provider training program. The goal beyond the current fiscal year is to expand the training to students in all clinical programs at DMU.

DMU has enjoyed the distinction for two years as the nation’s top producer of primary care physicians. Because the nation will likely never have enough psychiatrists to address its citizen’s mental and behavioral health issues, training primary care physicians to recognize and treat these issues is critical: Two-thirds of the prescriptions for people with mental illness are prescribed by their primary care physicians. That’s why DMU is working to do more to prepare its students for what they will see among their patients.

Used at the Menninger Clinic, a leading psychiatric hospital in Houston, the NAMI provider education program entails 15 hours of didactic and experiential learning. It is designed to transform the ways psychiatric care is delivered by increasing students’ comfort level and compassion in working with individuals with mental illness, fostering clinical empathy for patients and their families, and countering stigmas. 

Partnering with a medical school to deliver this training has been a longtime goal of Dr. Brister. After the recent NAMI conference, she stated, “I know I’ve said it many times, but I genuinely believe that the vision that DMU had to incorporate the lived experience of mental illness into the training for future physicians is going to help set the expectation that this become a standard of training in health care professionals.”

The partnership between DMU and NAMI also makes sense given the background of University President Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D. A trained clinical psychologist now in her seventh year at DMU, she knew there was so much more medical schools could do to impact mental health care. She is making plans to expand the DMU Clinic to include a behavioral health clinic that offers services to the community as well as to students. 

“The stars were aligned for Des Moines University to be the place for this work to begin,” President Franklin says.  

Watch this space for updates as DMU continues and expands this important training and takes additional actions to positively impact mental health.