Home to the Center for Disease Control, Atlanta is a city full of great minds focused on all issues related to public health. Despite this, a group of students and faculty at neighboring health professional schools including Emory School of Medicine, Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Georgia State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Mercer University School of Medicine, and the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, and found that education and awareness around one specific public health issue was sorely lacking from their training: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Though ACEs have only recently become a topic covered by the mainstream media, they have been studied and well documented as a public health issue since the late 1990s. Recognizing this gap in their professional training and the greater public discourse, a group of students came together in September of 2018 to establish the ACEs Student Task Force.
Formed under the organization H-STAT (Health Students Taking Action Together), the task force is a multidisciplinary and inter-institutional group with the goal of promoting the integration of ACEs into the curriculum at each institution, engaging in advocacy related to ACEs, and promoting community wide learning, discussion, and practical skill-building. “The ACEs Student Task Force was born from the conviction that as future healthcare professionals, it is necessary to understand the relationship between early life experiences and long-term health. While we learn about many risk factors for adult disease, it is crucial that we also focus on the profound importance of adverse childhood experiences if we are to adequately care for patients and populations,” says Amara Finch, Emory medical student and founder and director of the task force. Speaking to the group’s interdisciplinary approach, Amara explains, “we believe that advancing education, advocacy and skills-based training in this area is best accomplished by uniting across training programs so that we are able to share resources and expertise.”
As part of their efforts to achieve their goals, the task force has organized a training day dedicated to trauma informed care. “As we continued to learn about how common adverse childhood experiences are and how much they can impact people’s life and health, we felt the need to better equip ourselves and others to care for those who have been impacted by acute or chronic trauma,” said Carmen Reid, a fourth year medical student at Emory and chair of the event. The goal of the training day, she says, is “to bring together experts from different fields—medicine, nursing, public health, psychology, and social work—to help trainees build practical skills that we can apply in our everyday interactions with patients, clients, and even ourselves.” The event will take place on October 18, 2019, and will feature a variety of speakers, breakout sessions, and workshops focused on practical clinical skills to equip attendees to provide more sensitive care to the Atlanta community. The day will be highlighted by key note speaker Dr. Audrey Stillerman, a family medicine physician trained in integrative medicine from the University of Illinois Chicago. Stillerman is the Associate Director of Medical Affairs for the University of Illinois Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Initiative as well as a member of the Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative. Put more simply, she is a physician who has dedicated her career to furthering the health of entire communities through the promotion of trauma informed care. Her insight is sure to provide excellent context for attendees to appreciate the utility and importance of the clinical skills they will practice as part of the training day.
Upon the conclusion of the trauma informed care training day, the ACEs student task force will continue its work to promote the increased recognition of ACEs as a common and critical medical issue by all health care professionals. “For me, one thing is clear. The science on adversity and trauma-informed care is not some fringe, obscure topic – the range of outcomes associated with ACEs are among the most common that we see across the age spectrum” says Dr. Stan Sonu, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory and faculty advisor to the task force. “We have to respond, and this student-led initiative is a major step in providing skills-based training for health professionals and students across the state of Georgia.” The task force in Atlanta and the upcoming trauma informed care training day represent the potential impact of a small group of learners taking their education in their own hands to work towards a shared vision of the enhancement of the resiliency of their community for generations to come.