Kansas LEND Trainee Wins HRSA Public Health Award and is a Finalist at a Research Competition for Her Project about the Deficit of IDD Knowledge in Medical Education

May 6, 2022

Sydney Walls, MPH
Sydney Walls, MPH

As the older sibling to an intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD) adult, Sydney Walls watched her family struggle to find providers who were competent and willing to support her brother. Sydney is a Kansas LEND Public Health Trainee and a Master of Public Health (MPH) student at the University of Kansas Medical Center. When Sydney’s brother aged out of pediatric care and began struggling with significant medical complications, it was near impossible for her family to find a primary care provider that was knowledgeable enough about her brother’s IDD to care for him and able to take new patients. It took several months for Sydney’s family to finally find a provider. In order to explore why finding a primary care provider for her brother was so difficult, Sydney focused her MPH capstone and LEND capstone on provider knowledge and comfort with IDD people.

Sydney assisted KUMC’s chapter of the American Association of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) in surveying providers at KUMC’s Family Medicine department on their knowledge and comfort with working with IDD patients. In the survey, the providers were asked to rate their confidence levels on certain topics pertaining to IDD care; the providers rated ‘providing preventive and medically necessary care to IDD patients’ as one of their least confident topics. Additionally, the providers ranked ‘lack of confidence in managing medical problems in persons with Autism/ID’ as the top barrier to giving quality care to IDD patients.

To further explore these results, Sydney conducted semi-structured interviews with family medicine residents over their IDD education and comfort. She found that an overwhelming majority of the residents said they never had a dedicated class or clerkship to IDD (or disability in general). Most of the residents had only received sparse lectures over IDD or tangential clinical experiences in medical school and residency. Many of the residents were fearful working with IDD patients as they felt underprepared and undereducated on treating and providing them adequate care. In order to assuage this deficit in IDD knowledge in the family medicine residency programat KUMC, Sydney is working with the Kansas LEND program to create a semi-annual IDD panel of self-advocates, family members, and health professionals that will work in tandem with a family medicine IDD lecture series created by KUMC’s AADMD chapter.

Sydney’s project was one of five public health projects in the state of Kansas to earn a stipend from the Midwestern Public Health Training Center Field Placement Award Program, which is a US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded program. Additionally, Sydney has presented this project several times, and her presentation at the KUMC Student Research Forum earned her a first place award in her platform and made her a finalist in the overall Student Research Forum oral competition of over 100 projects. Sydney is set to graduate with her MPH in May 2022.