MESA, Ariz. – At a time when healthcare reform will most likely propose wellness incentives and taking personal responsibility for health, A.T. Still University (ATSU) has already been leading the way in both its curriculum for medical school students and its employee health program.

ATSU’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) is grounded in osteopathic medicine, which focuses on wellness, prevention, and the integration of mind, body, and spirit. Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O., is the father of osteopathic medicine and founder of the first college of osteopathic medicine, now A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM).

SOMA’s four-year curriculum includes clinical experience in patient settings beginning in the first year. As a reflection of osteopathic philosophy, the curriculum emphasizes preventive medicine and comprehensive patient care. Most medical schools do not enter clinical training until their third year, following two years of basic sciences and clinical text studies. SOMA students are unique in that they continue basic science and clinical curriculum studies while interacting with patients in community health centers (CHCs) throughout the United States.

“Our students work alongside CHC faculty and are able to diagnose, treat, and educate patients on disease and disease prevention,” said Douglas Wood, D.O., Ph.D., dean of SOMA. “We believe that we are the right medical school at the right time. Healthcare reform is now focusing on prevention and individuals at risk for chronic diseases, but prevention and wellness always have been our focus, and we are preparing tomorrow’s healthcare providers to advocate personal health responsibility and prevention. We are also serving a population of individuals who may be medically uninsured or underinsured.”

In addition, CHCs offer students the opportunity to learn about and participate in disease collaboratives. The National Center for Disease Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion put together collaboratives for treating chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma. The collaboratives—so named because CHCs nationwide participate in the protocols—are proving to be cost-effective and show a reduction in the frequency of hospital visits for patients with these chronic diseases. The collaboratives also allow outreach to populations who may be disproportionately affected by these diseases.

ATSU focuses on wellness and prevention among their employees as well. ATSU offers employees a chance to take personal responsibility for their health while also receiving a discount on their health insurance premium through the Still Healthy program. Still Healthy not only comprises a reduction in monthly premiums, but employees are also eligible for an annual reimbursement for participating in the program. All employees agree to attend four educational health programs per year, complete an online health assessment, and be a non-smoker or participate in a smoking cessation program. Additionally, all participants agree to a wellness exam paid 100 percent by ATSU.

“We understand that healthcare reform will probably advocate personal responsibility for being healthy, and we are already implementing wellness incentives for our employees to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors,” said Tonya Watson, assistant director, human resources at ATSU in Arizona.

The recent addition of the East Valley Family YMCA on ATSU’s Arizona campus provides students, staff, and faculty with an added opportunity to focus on disease prevention and wellness. The YMCA opened October 24 and will partner with ATSU on programs that improve the health of ATSU employees and YMCA members.

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