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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

The grant was obtained thanks to the combined efforts of GCSOM faculty and student leaders.

Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) has received a $25,000 grant from the National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine (NCIDM) to increase inclusion of patients with intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders (IDD) into GCSOM’s MD curriculum and to diversify elective choices for medical students. The grant was obtained thanks to the combined efforts of GCSOM faculty and student leaders.

GCSOM is a part of the third cohort of medical schools to receive an NCIDM grant that comes from a partnership between The American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) and the Special Olympics, with resources from a cooperative agreement funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of the partners is to provide training to medical students in the field of developmental medicine —the care of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities across the lifespan.

Competition is significant for NCIDM grants. Previous winners include Baylor, Case Western and Georgetown. Grants are bestowed to help medical schools implement curriculum enhancements aimed at addressing gaps in medical education regarding serving patients with IDD.

The grant will be used at GCSOM to incorporate five project activities in the MD curriculum that will:

  • Implement individuals with IDD into the Standardized Patient curriculum of M1 and M2 years to ensure all students have interaction with this population while learning basic history and physical exam skill, and also gain experience using Person First Language
  • Connect students with individuals with an IDD and their families during the Family Centered Experience, a key component of GCSOM’s first- and second-year student experience. This will afford students first hand insight into how one individual’s chronic condition affects his or her family and friends, and quality of life. Similarly, students gain a better understanding of how personal and social factors affect a patient’s access to and compliance with health care. This will be a safe space for students to ask questions to patients and families that will help them understand special considerations to make when caring for patients with IDD.
  • Incorporate clinical/patient presentations into the M1 curriculum through which a clinician invites patients, their families, and caregivers and discuss aspects of medical care relevant to materials covered in the Cellular and Molecular Basis of Life course. Patients or family members act as advocates and discuss the impact of the disease on the quality of life and challenges they face.
  • Incorporate projects for quality improvement of health care for patients with IDD into the 3rd year curriculum, thus allowing students to understand limitations of quality health care from the provider and intuitional standpoint, and find avenues for improvement. Students will then have the opportunity to present their findings at grand rounds, local health agencies, and health care/research conferences. They will be encouraged and funded to create an informational pamphlet with their findings to improve provider awareness.
  • Create a fourth-year elective rotation with Dr. Michelle Cornacchia at the Comprehensive Care Clinic at Geisinger Medical Center for students to gain experience performing a history and physical, and making individualized treatment plans for individuals with IDD. The clinic cares for people with complex medical needs originating in childhood like intellectual and developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, autism, technology-dependent individuals, and other individuals with complex needs.

Principal investigators on the grant are Dr. Michelle Cornacchia, a board-certified internist and pediatrician at Geisinger Comprehensive Care Clinic and clinical assistant professor of internal medicine, and Dr. Youngjin Cho, an assistant professor of immunology in the department of medical education at GCSOM.

Grant submissions to NCIDM also required student champions to be successful. GCSOM’s student champions are third-year student Avisha Shah, third-year student Douglas Wells and second-year student, Emily Herman.

Shah and Wells are long-time advocates for people with IDD. In their second year of medical school, the pair founded the Community Healthcare Advocacy Team for Individuals with Disabilities (CHATID). CHATID is an advocacy group for improving the quality of healthcare for everyone with disabilities by expanding accessibility, effectively coordinating and making healthcare workers aware of community-based resources, and improving the efficacy of medical staff to communicate with and care for individuals with disabilities. Dr. Cho and Emily Herman are also members of CHATID.

Wells, Shah, and Herman will help GCSOM achieve the grant’s goals by working with CHATID and community partners to incorporate a variety of IDD into the five projects. They are working with faculty to ensure a smooth incorporation of these projects into the existing medical curriculum, gain student enthusiasm for the curricular changes and develop ways to ensure the skills students gain will be sustained once they are physicians.

“The whole idea of the grant is to help medical students get comfortable with patients with IDDs early in their training,” Wells said, noting that residency – or even a third-year rotation -- is far too late in training to meet such a patient or the first time. “With the help of our community partners, we’ll make sure first- and second-year students meet standardized patients with an IDD and talk about this patient population in their case-based learning. Dr. Cornacchia will also teach clinical skills to third- and fourth-year students at Geisinger’s Comprehensive Care Clinic.”

According to Shah, “the more experience and comfort students gain with this population, the better they will be able to break down any trust and communication barriers that exist in their patient interactions. We hope our project will help future physicians better understand how to incorporate these patients’ complex personal lives into their treatment plans.”

Community partners involved in the project are the Advocacy Alliance, ARC of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Luzerne/Wyoming County Mental Health and Developmental Institute and the Center for Independent Living of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Although not listed individually, many faculty members at GCSOM and comprehensive care clinic participate and support the various aspects of the projects.

About Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine

Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM) is a member of the Geisinger family. GCSOM offers a community-based model of medical education with campuses in Danville, Lewistown, Scranton, Sayre and Wilkes-Barre. Geisinger Commonwealth offers Doctor of Medicine (MD) and a portfolio of graduate degrees. The school’s innovative curriculum, focused on caring for people in the context of their lives and their community, attracts the next generation of physicians and scientists from within its region, as well as from across the state and the nation. Geisinger Commonwealth is committed to non-discrimination in all employment and educational opportunities. Visit

About Geisinger
Geisinger is among the nation’s leading providers of value-based care, serving 1.2 million people in urban and rural communities across Pennsylvania. Founded in 1915 by philanthropist Abigail Geisinger, the non-profit system generates $10 billion in annual revenues across 134 care sites - including 10 hospital campuses, and Geisinger Health Plan, with 600,000 members in commercial and government plans. The Geisinger College of Health Sciences educates more than 5,000 medical professionals annually and conducts more than 1,400 clinical research studies. With 26,000 employees, including 1,600 employed physicians, Geisinger is among Pennsylvania’s largest employers with an estimated economic impact of $14 billion to the state’s economy. On March 31, 2024, Geisinger became the first member of Risant Health, a new nonprofit charitable organization created to expand and accelerate value-based care across the country.  Learn more at or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and X.

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