Integrated Health Scholars Program Prepares Graduates to Serve Kansas and Missouri
In the nine years since its inception, the Integrated Health Scholars Program (IHSP) has prepared 246 graduates to provide integrated health care with underserved communities across the state of Kansas and into western Missouri.
Research staff and faculty at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare created the program in 2014. The program’s goal is to increase the number of clinical social workers capable of providing integrated health services in underserved communities.
“We knew that there was a huge need in the state of Kansas for master’s-prepared social workers,” said Michelle Levy, a co-principal investigator and a founder of the program. “It seemed like a great fit for us.”
Master of Social Work students in the IHSP get hands-on experience working in a clinical practicum in an underserved health community. Students develop and present a capstone project on a practice innovation aimed at advancing health equity at their practicum. The IHSP supports students with a $10,000 scholarship, job placement support, and monthly value-added training.
Co-Principal Investigator Jason Matejkowski, PhD, said the value-added training is an especially important piece of the program.
“Value-added training is about moving above and beyond what students are learning in their classes to provide additional content and opportunities to learn more about integrated care delivery,” Matejkowski said. “We want to provide opportunities to practice what they learn in the classroom.”
Value-added training takes many forms, such as simulations and collaborative work with students and educators from healthcare professions including pharmacy, medicine, occupational therapy, and advanced practice nursing, as well as experiential training on motivational interviewing and brief intervention. The IHSP partners with the KU Medical Center, KU Rural Health Education and Services, the KU Center for Telemedicine and Telehealth, and other community partners to provide this training.
“Partnership in advancement of interprofessional skill development is what we’re all about here,” Matejkowski said.
How the Integrated Health Scholars Program Has Grown
The scope of the settings in which the IHSP has built partnerships has expanded over its nine years.
“One of the exciting things we’ve been able to do is to grow with the school,” Levy said. “As the school has expanded into partnership sites around the state, we’ve been there right with them, and we’ve had the opportunity to provide a good number of scholarships to students who live outside of Lawrence and the KC Metro area.”
From the outset, the program has focused on rural healthcare settings in western Kansas. It has expanded to include support for other underserved communities across the state.
“We partner with a lot of the organizations in the community who are doing this work,” Levy said.
The IHSP is working with 26 practicum agencies for 2023–2024. IHSP has collaborated with the School’s Practicum Education Office to engage over 50 new practicum agencies from across the region over the full history of the program. Those agencies include Salina Family Healthcare, Southeast Community Mental Health Center, and New Chance, a rural substance treatment provider.
“One of the things that I feel most proud of is that we have 246 graduates who are out there in the world doing great work and making a difference,” Levy said. “It’s a great legacy to leave to contribute to that need in our state.”
IHSP Recent Graduate Spotlights
Tim Bianco, a 2023 graduate of the IHSP, came to the program after seven years working as a special education teacher. He was drawn to the program because of the unique opportunity it presented him to experience different aspects of social work.
“This program exposes you to so many different avenues to use your degree,” Bianco said. “I’d heard good things about it from some of the professors, so I thought it would be a phenomenal opportunity to learn about the world of social work and the many hats we can wear.”
Bianco did his practicum as a pediatric mental health clinician at University Health in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. For his capstone project, Increasing Awareness of Educational Resources in Mental Health University Health Behavioral Health Child and Adolescent Center, Bianco developed a professional training program to help clinicians educate parents about the behavioral health resources available to them.
“The goal was to educate the clinicians to be able to better have those conversations with clients and their parents, and also to directly have resources for the parents and guardians of my clients,” he said.
Bianco works as a pediatric clinician at Johnson County Mental Health, a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic focused on comprehensive behavioral services in Mission, Kansas. He uses collaborative skills that he developed in the IHSP in his practice.
“When you’re sitting across from a client and you mention that you saw that they met with a certain doctor last week, the first thought in their head is, ‘How did they know that?’ and the second thought is, ‘They must really care about how I’m doing if they took the time to do that.’”
Bianco began work at Johnson County Mental Health in May, earned his LMSW in July, and welcomed his second child in June.
Linda Her, a 2022 graduate of the IHSP, saw the value of an integrated health model while she worked at the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center (SEKMHC), a Certified Community Based Health Center (CCBHC) located in Iola. She was drawn to integrative health due to her experience working in the intersection between mental health and substance abuse care prior to joining the IHSP.
“I think that’s kind of my niche, working with that dual-diagnosis population,” Her said. “There were a lot of clients who were struggling out here.”
She found that the screening and assessment skills she developed with the IHSP helped her in her work as a provider.
“It was very eye-opening, very helpful, and it’s an integral part of why I’m doing what I’m doing right now,” she said.
She completed an employment-based practicum with SEKMHC as the center was awarded the CCBHC grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. She has seen the SEKMHC change significantly over her time with the center.
“Since I’ve been employed there, our agency has grown a lot,” she said. Her capstone project, CCBHC in Rural Kansas, detailed the growth that her center experienced after adopting the CCBHC model, increasing the number of available programs for children and the elderly and adding new trainings for clinicians.
“The numbers have grown, our agency has grown, and we have a lot more programs to offer our community out here in Southeast Kansas. It’s been really cool to be a part of that,” she said.
Avery Johnson, a 2022 graduate of the IHSP from Garden City in western Kansas, found that the integrated health model matched up well with the needs of her community.
“The approach for integrated health really helps rural areas the most, because we don’t have a lot of resources,” Johnson said. “If we can combine all the resources we have out here, it helps our communities more than if they were separate.”
With a background as a mental health therapist, Johnson was compelled to join the IHSP by a desire to provide quality care for her clients in Western Kansas and a recommendation from a friend.
Her commitment to providing quality care is reflected in her capstone project, Outcome Rating Scale (ORS) and Session Rating Scale: The Importance of Client Progress Evaluation and Feedback, in which she developed response and evaluation surveys to help track the progress of her clients.
“It was a good method to recap what was and wasn’t working for therapy,” she said.
Johnson uses the skills she developed in the IHSP as a behavioral health therapist for Genesis Family Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Garden City that provides integrated health care to communities across Western Kansas.
“I love it here,” Johnson said. “I love our team, we have quite a few therapists here in Garden, and we also serve Dodge City, Ulysses and Liberal. We all work together and serve communities that don’t have a lot of resources.”
Applications for the Integrated Health Scholars Program at the University of Kansas typically open in November and close in mid-January. Learn more about the Integrated Health Scholars Program at KU and how to apply.
Story by Joe Bush, KU School of Social Welfare