A new effort is underway to better prepare future doctors and other health care professionals to treat people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living has allocated $1.75 million over the next five years toward the initiative, which will bring together five universities to study existing trainings and develop materials and standardized practice experiences that can be incorporated into the curriculum for students in medical education.

“Unfortunately many medical schools do not include content about the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities into their curriculum for health care students. This all too often leads to poorer health outcomes,” said Julie Hocker, commissioner of the Administration on Disabilities at the Administration for Community Living. “This grant will work to close this critical gap.”

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The curriculum developed will first be implemented at the participating institutions — Rush University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, St. John Fisher College, Villanova University and the University of Minnesota — before ultimately being disseminated to 30 other schools with a goal of training more than 15,000 students across various health care fields.

The project, known as the Partnering to Transform Health Outcomes with Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities, or PATH-PWIDD, will involve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families at all stages.

“Multiple international and national agencies and organizations have issued calls to action to address the health inequities affecting those with (IDD),” said Suzanne Smeltzer of Villanova University who is a co-investigator on the project. “Improving the education of health care students about (IDD) is a major step in preparing future health care professionals to provide quality care to this population.”

This is just the latest effort to address limited knowledge of developmental disabilities among doctors and other health professionals. In recent years, a University of Louisville program sought to add training on working with patients in this population to the curricula at 12 medical schools.

More recently, disability advocates pushed for a requirement that all medical schools include specific training on treating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, though that effort has so far been unsuccessful.

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