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Operation House Call pairs medical students, special needs families for lessons in compassionate care

Medical student worked with The Arc of Massachusetts to bring course to UMass Chan

Naaz Daneshvar

First-year students in the T.H. Chan School of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School will develop skills to enhance the compassionate care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities this fall, thanks to the perseverance of third-year medical student Naaz Daneshvar.

Operation House Call is a course offered by The Arc of Massachusetts in which families serve as teachers to prepare students to interact with patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A highlight of the course is when students visit participating families to observe and understand how family members and their loved ones with special needs communicate and connect. The experiences help students see their patients as people first, rather than a diagnosis.

Students of the Chan School of Medicine have the opportunity to design noncredit optional enrichment electives. Daneshvar considered proposing Operation House Call as an optional enrichment elective, but realized how important the training is.

“The more I read into it, the more I realized Operation House Call shouldn’t really be an elective,” Daneshvar said. “No matter what specialty you go into, no matter what health care field you go into, most of us are going to meet either a child or adult with some sort of special needs.”

The issue is personal for Daneshvar, whose cousin, Amir, has an intellectual and developmental disability.

“He has a number of medical complexities,” she said. “He gets seizures. Day-to-day is sometimes challenging. It can be hard to know what’s bothering him when he’s feeling under the weather or after a tough day at his day program.”

Daneshvar said she has learned how to communicate with Amir and that has made all the difference.

“I grew up with my cousin, so I don’t consider him different. It’s easy for me to take the extra time to hear him out, as I know that once I figure out what is bothering him and help him out, his positive energy is infectious,” she said. “I think everyone will find the reward that comes after creative communication techniques and a little extra patience completely worth it.”

After leading a pilot class last year supported by The Arc of Massachusetts, Daneshvar secured funding to bring Operation House Call to the Chan School of Medicine. However, she also wanted to work to ensure the training is required of all medical students in Massachusetts and testified before the state legislature to that effect last fall.  She wrote a letter to the editor of The Boston Globe about the pending legislation in July.

“The incorporation of Operation House Call in the curriculum is due to Naaz’s tenacity and deep belief that caring for intellectually and developmentally diverse patients is a critical doctoring skill,” said Patricia Seymour, MD’07, associate professor of family medicine & community health and assistant dean of clinical curriculum in the Office of Undergraduate Medical Education.  

Maura Sullivan, director of government affairs and health policy for The Arc of Massachusetts and a parent of two children on the autism spectrum, applauded Daneshvar’s efforts.

“This program is so important to me as a health policy maker and a parent because it encourages more young doctors to be champions for people with disabilities,” Sullivan said. “They become more confident and more willing to treat patients across the lifespan. They begin to see the strength of the individual with a disability and the resilience of the family who supports them.”

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