Inova, Shenandoah University to add new graduate-level programs at ICPH
Inova Health System and Shenandoah University will announce today that they are partnering to expand graduate-level programs in high-demand health-care fields, including public health and personalized medicine.
These programs are seen as an important step in providing a pipeline of health-care professionals in these fields, including those with training in pharmacogenomics (PGx), the study of how people’s genes affect their response to drugs.
“I think we can hire every single person that graduates and comes through these programs,” says Todd Stottlemyer, CEO of the Inova Center for Personalized Health (ICPH) in Fairfax County. “There’s a real shortage of outstanding health professionals. The partnership allows us to capitalize on the strengths of the university to make sure we have the pipeline of outstanding talent in some areas that are relatively new.”
The partners will sign a memorandum of understanding today during an event at the ICPH campus.
Notably, the new programs will be the first occupants on the campus, the health system’s ambitious effort to become a global destination for research centered on personalized medicine. Inova recently bought the 117-acre property from Exxon Mobil.
Eventually, Inova envisions a campus that attracts clinicians, researchers, health-care professionals, students and businesses related to the rapidly growing field of personalized health. “Inova’s bringing together the very best researchers and practitioners, and imagine if you’re a student, the opportunity you have to be among those minds,” says Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University. “I think the energy is going to be amazing here. These are the people who are going to define the future of health.”
The Shenandoah programs will occupy 28,000 square feet of classroom and laboratory space in the education wing of the former Exxon Mobil offices, which currently are under renovation. Inova will invest $5 million to create the programs.
“Inova has identified two things here,” says Fitzsimmons. “They’ve identified where the societal needs are emerging because of the aging population, and the second piece is that we need practitioners with new sets of skills. We just don’t have enough psychiatric nurses, genetic nurses, or professionals focusing on public health.”
ICPH also has signed research partnerships with George Mason University and the University of Virginia. Those programs will focus on research, while Shenandoah’s programs will focus on teaching clinically trained professionals.
The new programs include master’s degree and postgraduate certificate programs, which are expected to have about 250 students.
In addition to the new programs, Shenandoah will move its Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, now in Ashburn, to ICPH.
Many students will be able to do clinical rotations at Inova facilities, including Inova Fairfax Hospital directly across the street from the ICPH campus. Not only will that provide hands-on training for students, but Inova will be able to hire practitioners already trained in its policies and procedures and applicable medicine.
The new programs include both master’s degrees and postgraduate degrees in:
• public health,
• pharmacogenomics and precision medicine,
• and, for nurse practitioners, psychiatric mental health and gerontology primary care.
Certificates in health-care information technology and patient care navigation also will be offered. The certificates in healthcare IT, pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine, and public health will be offered online.
The partnership is a natural one, the institutions say. They have been working together on programs such as nursing, physical therapy and physician-assistant studies for two decades.
In addition, Shenandoah was one of first pharmacy schools in the country to incorporate pharmacogenomics into its core curriculum, and its professors are active in PGx research, says Arthur Harralson, the associate dean for research and a professor of pharmacogenomics at the pharmacy school.
For example, the FDA adopted researchers’ method of assigning genotypes to the drug Warfarin, a blood thinner used to prevent clots, strokes and heart attacks. The pharmacy school also is part of a federal grant to study pharmacogenomics in African-American patients.
PGx is an integral part of Shenandoah’s curriculum, with students required to take four classes on the subject.
That puts Shenandoah ahead of the curve. In 2016, new national pharmacy school standards were adopted saying that PGx should be included in pharmacy school curricula. “We had it woven into our program long before that,” says Robert DiCenzo, dean of Shenandoah’s School of Pharmacy. “There are now requirements to have pharmacogenomics within pharmacy education, but many of the programs are just starting to look for ways to put that in.”
Pharmacogenomics has the potential to be a game-changer in medicine. About 10 percent of drugs have known markers that can affect a patient’s reaction to medicine, influencing its efficacy or toxicity. PGx also can be used to determine the correct dosage for a patient.
“I think it’s probably one of the most exciting areas of medicine today: the intersection of pharmacology and genomics and the ability to tell a healthy individual that they shouldn’t take a drug,” says Stottlemyer.
The field is a key part of Inova’s focus on personalized medicine. Inova is incorporating PGx in several areas, such as psychiatry and cardiology, but it has become the first hospital system in the country to develop a genetic drug test offered at Inova Fairfax Hospital to all newborns as part of their standard care.
With a simple cheek swab, Inova uses a baby’s genetics to document how a child could react to 26 different drugs, including codeine, a common pain-relief drug for children. Some children metabolize the drug too quickly, which in extreme cases can cause death. “These kids won’t need these medicines for some time,” says Dr. John Deeken, chief operating officer of the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, which eventually will be located at ICPH. “So is it necessary to do it today? No. But your genes don’t change. We think this starts the child on the right path to personalized health.”
About 72 percent of parents are selecting to have the MediMap test done for their newborns. The program has been so successful that it is being added to obstetrics departments at other Inova hospitals.
Despite the promise pharmacogenomics holds, there is a shortage of health-care professionals who can interpret the complex data.
Harralson of Shenandoah University says a recent study showed that the average medical school student heard only four hours of lecture on pharmacogenomics.
“Physician education and physician adoption is probably one of the reasons that the field continues to progress, but not rapidly progress,” Deeken says.
That’s where the usefulness of the certificates can come in. “The rate of change is exponential,” says Fitzsimmons. “That’s why it’s important not just to be training new practitioners, but as they go out into the field, to bring them back every five or 10 years.”
Stottlemyer says pharmacogenomics allows the medical field to rethink health care, giving doctors ways to prevent disease and help their patients stay healthy.
“This is fundamentally about changing the human condition,” says Stottlemyer. “We’re disrupting ourselves because you have an industry that’s going through a significant disruption. Disrupting from the inside out is ambitious and not easy to do, and you’ve got to have partners that are agile, quick and entpreneurial.”