Des Moines University.

Officials at Des Moines University are seeking continued state funding for a class that’s helping doctors-in-training feel more comfortable caring for patients with a mental illness.

Dr. Lisa Streyffeler, a professor at the osteopathic school, says in the spring of 2018, DMU became the first medical school in the country to offer the course.

“We have always taught how do you diagnose mental illnesses, how do you treat them — so does every other medl school in the country,” she says, “but that doesn’t necessarily make our students emotionally comfortable with sitting with someone who’s in the middle of an acute psychiatric crisis and feel like they really know what that patient will want in that situation or what that patient’s family members’ needs are.”

Forty-two students completed the course in 2018. Dr. Streyffeler says surveys of those students found their approach to caring for patients was more collaborative with both the patient and the patient’s family when compared to surveys completed by students who did not take the class.

“In particular, we found that students who did this 15-hour course felt less anxious about interacting with folks with mental illnesses,” she says. “They felt more comfortable about being around them, in general. They had more positive attitudes towards folks with mental illnesses.”

Dr. Streyffeler says people with severe mental illnesses have a significantly reduced life expectancy due to untreated conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure that are unrelated to the patient’s mental health.

“We’re trying to get physicians more comfortable engaging with patients who might have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, even if they’re not psychiatrists, to say: ‘Ok, I understand really what this patient and this family’s needs are,” Streyffeler says, “that it’s really an unbelievably stressful experience.” And she says that kind of interaction will make the patient more likely to show up for regular check-ups, so their overall health is better monitored.”

The class is now required for all third-year students at Des Moines University. Iowa lawmakers provided $250,000 to the medical school to finance the class this spring. DMU officials were in the governor’s office earlier this month, asking Governor Reynolds to support continuing that state funding for the next academic year.