Innovative medical education program trains health care providers to practice in correctional settings

Karen Reece, PhD
Dr. Robert Striker
Dr. Joan Addington-White

A new course at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health will give UW nursing, medical, physician assistant and pharmacy students the opportunity to address a challenging health issue: the health and health care of inmates in Wisconsin’s growing, and aging, prison population.

The training program, which is being conducted by the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation in partnership with Robert Striker, MD, PhD (pictured at upper right), associate professor, Infectious Disease with funding support from the SMPH Wisconsin Partnership Program, kicked off in April, 2018 with a symposium and panel discussion for students and faculty memebers. In fall 2018 and spring 2019, the project will offer a class that gives an overview of the complicated criminal justice system, and that aims to develop relationships between trainees and mentors who are focused on the importance of delivering quality health care to people who are incarcerated.

“What we know is that when people are cared for in prison and are healthier when they are released, they have greater opportunities to be productive citizens and contribute to society,” said Dr. Striker.

The prison population continues to grow and age, requiring health care providers who understand the the unique needs and challenges of individuals who are incarcerated. Today, there are more than 22,000 men and women in Wisconsin prisons, with the female population growing at a faster rate than any other population in the state. Extensive and troubling racial disparities exist as well, with one in eight Black men currently incarcerated.

Health challenges of incarcerated populations include mental health conditions, as well as heart disease, diabetes, infectious disease, addiction, chronic stress, and pregnancy and childbirth in prison. Upon release, the risk of death of formerly incarcerated individuals is 13 times higher than the general population within the first two weeks and 3.5 times higher at two years post-release.

In the panel discussion, Joan Addington-White, MD, clinical professor, General Internal Medicine and director of the Internal Medicine Primary Care Track, reminded attendees, "“You will serve patients with a history of incarceration at some point in your career. Through this course, we want to train students to have the knowledge and sensitivity to do so effectively.”

The endeavor fulfills a critical need, says Karen Reece, PhD, director of research and program development, Nehemiah Community Development Corporation. "Caring for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people is a unique practice with unique needs and challenges," she said.

"There are a few medical centers and universities across the country that are addressing this with medical residents, but our course is innovative in that it is targeting students earlier in their education. It’s our hope that students will then think about this earlier in their career as well."


Photo caption (top): Dr. Karen Reece of Nehemiah Community Development Corporation serves as a panelist at an April 27, 2018 discussion about correctional health. Photo credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine