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IU Medical Student Completes Clinical at Taylor's Invitation Program

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medical student in Invitation program

Since 2018, the Invitation program has helped local community members form lifestyle habits that prevent diabetes and other preventable diseases, as well as given undergraduate students the opportunity to work directly with patients. It’s one of the few programs like it in the entire country, and it’s currently on track to become certified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

As the Invitation program’s reputation grows, the medical community is taking notice. During the fall, Mary Grace Ertel, a 4th-year medical student from Indiana University, completed a clinical elective at the program. She had become interested in lifestyle medicine, which combines nutritional and other lifestyle changes in conjunction with traditional medicine to treat disease. It also includes stress management, movement, increasing positive social connections, and reduction of risky substances.

One-of-a-Kind Program

Ertel connected with Dr. Erik Hayes, Professor of Kinesiology and the director of the Invitation program, through involvement with the Indiana Lifestyle Network, which is a group of Indiana-based health practitioners who are passionate about lifestyle medicine. She had been looking for an elective in lifestyle medicine, and she was impressed with what the program offered. She submitted a special request to IU School of Medicine to do a clinical rotation there, and it was approved.

“We created a framework for how we wanted the elective to work,” said Ertel. “Typically, you rotate with a doctor for a month. But we created it in a way that I was able to work directly with patients at the program. I was also able to help rework patient materials and the program itself, so the program could be more tailored to the patient over time.”

Ertel was drawn to Invitation because of its one-of-a-kind program, which utilizes undergraduate students to deliver healthcare (supervised by faculty) at a very low cost to patients. With students getting direct patient care hours as undergraduates and patients receiving individualized attention, it’s a win-win for everyone.

“Lifestyle medicine as a concept is not complex,” said Ertel. “We all know we need to eat better, exercise more, reduce stress, etc. But it’s that interactive piece that is so important - to have someone walking with you through the changes you’re making, to have a plan that works for the patient specifically.”

“I’ve never seen a program like this across the entire country,” she said. 

Interest in Lifestyle Medicine Grows

In addition to working directly with patients, such as guiding them through exercises or working out key nutritional changes, students take part in supervision case reviews. With faculty facilitating the conversation, students problem-solve and talk through feedback together.

Ertel said that while lifestyle medicine is not emphasized in medical school, there’s a growing desire among her peers to be more informed and equipped to help their future patients in this way.

“Lifestyle medicine is not supposed to be in conflict with the traditional model of medicine,” she said. “It’s supposed to go in conjunction to provide ultimate healing for the patient.”

With her clinical now over, Ertel continues to partner with partner with the other Invitation Faculty Directors, Dr. Diane Dungan (Psychology) and Dr. Brad Kendall and Scott Fenstermacher, DPT (Kinesiology), in revising the Invitation program curriculum and creating a pathway for more medical students to complete elective clinicals there. She will be starting an internal medicine residency soon and plans to go into primary care after that, as well as earn a lifestyle medicine certification.

Last year, 72 Taylor students gained experience working at the Invitation program with approximately 50 patients. The Invitation program looks forward to further growth as Taylor plans to expand degrees in health-related professions, including Nursing and Physician Assistant.

“The body is worth taking care of because God made it, period, end of story,” said Hayes.

“God wants us to take care of our bodies,” echoed Ertel. “Most people just don’t know how to do that because they’ve just never been taught.”

Learn More about Health Sciences at Taylor

Approximately 25% of Taylor’s freshmen class enters the university with an interest in the health sciences, including pre-med, pre-PT, Nursing, and more. As a student-focused university, we’ll be there to advise and support you throughout the entire process—all the way through applying to graduate school. Request more information or schedule your campus visit today.