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Problem-Based Learning Skills Learned at the School of Public Health Continue to Serve Alum as Emergency Room Physician

May 18, 2016

As an emergency room physician in South Jersey, Matt Young, DO, MPH ’99, spends most of his time treating urgent problems, but he says his public health training comes into play on a daily basis.

"When I'm teaching residents, a lot of times they want to treat symptoms and send patients on their way. I urge them to ask, 'Why is this going on? What is the roadblock? Can we overcome it?' You can treat high blood pressure, but figure out the root cause, too. Why does the patient have these issues - financial, health, family, social? Can we help them access resources they may not know about?"

Back when Matt was a student in the school's Bellet Building, he remembers learning fundamentals about communicating effectively, being comfortable speaking your mind and backing ideas up with evidence-based facts. The problem-based learning curriculum helped him learn how to tap into community resources, which he now shares with patients at the bedside.

Young was in the school's second cohort of MPH students, who entered in 1997 when the school was part of Allegheny University of the Health Sciences. At the end of the first year of his MPH, when Allegheny was financially dissolving, Matt remembers sitting in a student lounge of the Bellet Building as he and classmates tried to figure out whether Allegheny's bankruptcy would impact their studies. He and a dozen classmates stayed with the school when it emerged from the Allegheny bankruptcy and graduated in 1999 from the renamed MCP Hahnemann University School of Public Health.

“My time in the School of Public Health was an amazing experience,” said Young. “I remember original faculty members – Marcy Polansky, Toti Villanueva, Ed Gracely – and met Jonathan Mann twice. Unfortunately he wasn't there that long before the plane crash.” In addition to his master’s degree, there's one additional outcome of Matt's time in the School of Public Health: friend Rick Plowey married Matt's sister and went from classmate to brother-in-law.

He still remembers his Community-Based Master’s Project, on dating violence. His field work on a CDC-supported project had him conducting surveys before and after a middle school-based intervention in North and West Philadelphia public schools. Before the intervention, he recalls, “what kids accepted as okay behavior - hitting one another - was disturbing. After the intervention, they understood that such violence was not acceptable and would hurt feelings.” The outcomes of the intervention were included in a book issued by the American Psychological Association and a National Institute of Justice brief for secondary school teachers.

“As a student, I remember Matt going to great lengths to track down resources,” said Villanueva, one of a handful of faculty and staff who have been with the school since its formation. "One time, when he needed information on the Siracusa principles on civil rights for a class assignment, he called Geneva, Switzerland and got ahold of the principle’s developers. The author faxed him what he needed for class!”

Young went on to get his DO from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Later, as an attending ER physician at a hospital in Philadelphia’s Frankford section, he noticed that “half of the population I treated had complications and no resources.” Patients with diabetes complications, for instance, had no family physician to see after an emergency room visit, no resources to get educated about their disease, and no way to keep their prescriptions filled. “For a lot of people in Philadelphia, the ER is their family doctor. While this may be a 'pill nation,' we can’t write a prescription to make everyone feel better."

Now, as an ER physician in the Virtua and Kennedy health systems, Young continues to see pervasive public health issues, many of which have policy implications. Mental health crises and drug addiction issues are a constant in the ER, while the shortage of behavioral health resources is growing. “Crisis units are full, and for someone with an acute behavioral health issue, sitting in the chaotic ER environment for 3-4 days waiting for a bed only makes things worse."

Currently living in Philadelphia's Northern Liberties section, Young teaches medical residents, guest lectures on blunt and penetrating traumas at Rowan School of Medicine, and runs a training course for the Emergency Medicine board exams.

Young stresses that, whether treating patients or working with community partners, public health practitioners need to get to know resources in the area, and to listen to the people and communities they are serving.“ A lot of people don't know how to access health care resources. Declining reimbursement means medical care providers are trying to see as many patients as they can, so time spent educating patients is falling short,” said Young. “As a nation, we need to do more so people can access resources - regular check-ups and routine diagnostics - before they have an emergency.”