Students participate in innovative web-based training modules on addiction and clinical research fundamentals, followed by opportunities to engage in stipend-supported faculty-mentored real-world substance abuse research.
Substance abuse (SA) causes over 540,000 deaths and incurs more than half a trillion dollars in costs per year. Approximately 12.5% of the US population struggles with addiction, yet, according to experts in the field, it is dramatically under-researched.
Responding to the need for more research in the field of SA, New York University’s Substance Abuse Research Education and Training (SARET) program was created through a 10-year, $2.9-million education grant funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.
SARET is an innovative initiative to educate and stimulate interest in addiction and the fundamentals of clinical research among diverse New York University students who are training in the health professions. The program exposes students to the field of substance abuse early in their education, in an effort to encourage and prepare them for careers in clinically oriented SA research.
SARET uses learner-directed interactive computer-based educational technology, creating a flexible and content-rich program to educate health professional students about substance abuse and the fundamentals of clinical research. A subset of learners, motivated by participation in this curriculum, participate in a summer-long (or year-long) program centered on an intensive substance abuse-related research experience with a seasoned mentor, aimed at stimulating enduring interest in this field.
Examples of some of the summer-long research experiences students tackled were: “Smoking Cessation in the Emergency Department: Is Doing More Worth the Effort?”; “A survey of addiction, methods of treatment, relative success rates, and interventions that may be available to dentists with their patients.”; “Are Aging HIV-positive Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) at Risk for Illicit Drug Use?”; and, “Psilocybin and treatment of acute anxiety in patients with cancer”, among others.
SARET began as an inter-professional collaboration between the NYU School of Medicine (NYU SoM), NYU College of Nursing (NYUCN), and NYU College of Dentistry (NYUCD). As SARET enters its sixth year, the interdisciplinary team now includes the NYU School of Social Work (NYU SSW) as well.
“We are now poised to enter the second ‘phase’ of the SARET initiative by expanding the target audience to include social work students,” said Dr. Marc Gourevitch, Principal Investigator and founding Chairman of the Department of Population Health, NYU SoM. “The addition of the NYU SSW to the core SARET team will strengthen SARET students’ education about professions central to substance abuse prevention and treatment while contributing to the important goal of developing substance abuse-oriented investigators in the field of social work,” he said.
“Social work has been deeply involved in the clinical care of substance abusers and their families; however, substance abuse-related research conducted by and for social workers is limited in quantity and impact,” said Ellen Tuchman, associate professor and coordinator for the New York State Office of Mental Health Evidence-Based Mental Health Practice Project at NYU SSW. “The NIH Roadmap emphasizes the need to train an interdisciplinary workforce, drawn from the fields that treat people dealing with substance abuse. The Silver School of Social Work is now taking up this research training challenge.”
“Substance use disorders and substance abuse are multi-determined phenomena and treatment must be comprehensive and involve an inter-professional and inter-disciplinary team of providers, hence our composition,” said Dr. Madeline Naegle, Professor, Coordinator of the Advanced Practice Nursing Specialty, Substance Related Disorders, and SARET’s lead investigator at NYUCN. “With greater emphasis on evidence based treatment, the paucity of evidence for addiction treatment and the few numbers of researchers in our disciplines who can teach EBP and conduct research is starkly evident. Our project models the importance of both interdisciplinary treatment teams and interdisciplinary research teams,” she said.
Dr. Frederick More, SARET’s lead investigator at NYU College of Dentistry explains, “Oral health researchers have shown the link between oral signs and symptoms and systemic diseases. The interprofessional collaboration and learning in SARET has been well received in dentistry.” Dental student summer researchers have been productive and exit interviews confirm that participants embrace methodologies of evaluating their patients and intend to apply them in practice.
In a recent publication entitled, “Engaging health professional students in substance abuse research: development and early evaluation of the SARET program,” in the Journal of Addiction Medicine [2012 Sep;6(3):196-204], the team found that the SARET program stimulated SA clinical and research interest among students of nursing, medicine, and dentistry, providing a compelling evidence base for disseminating the curriculum to other health professional schools across the country.
“The potential for broadening impact through dissemination is compelling,” said, Dr. Gourevitch. “The preliminary assessment of impact presented in our paper suggests real potential for SARET to stimulate interest in the crucially important yet undersubscribed field of SA research,” he added.
SARET’s novel program blends modular online curricular content with mentored research experiences to stimulate interest in SA research among students in the fields of medicine, nursing, and dentistry, and now social work. SARET is exploring and evaluating inter-professional teaching and learning strategies in its modules, research mentoring, and seminars taught by members of its key disciplines, all structured with an eye toward promoting student exchange about their differing professional perspectives. The early evaluation suggests that participation in SARET stimulates interest among NYU’s professional healthcare students in the clinical and research aspects of SA, while enhancing their awareness and knowledge of other health care professions.