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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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St. Joe’s and Jefferson partner to improve autism healthcare


St. Joe’s school of Health Studies and Education and Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC) have joined forces to create a program that trains students interested in becoming the next generation of autism specialist physicians.

Joseph McCleery, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology and executive director of academic programs of the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support, said this partnership aligns with the first part of the Kinney Center’s two-fold mission: to educate and train the autism professionals of tomorrow.

“Our mission is to train where people don’t exist or where there isn’t enough of them, so this is a natural extension for what we do,” McCleery said. “To have this relationship with Jefferson, we are now going to create a pipeline to create as many medical doctors as we can who similarly have this academic training and medical experience.”

Jefferson recently opened their Center for Autism and Neurodiversity. McCleery said that with Jefferson now becoming invested in this field, and St. Joe’s already being invested in this area, this was the right match.

Through this six-week summer program, St. Joe’s students will have the opportunity to work alongside expert autism researchers. Angela McDonald, Ph.D., LPCS, NCC, dean of the school of Health Studies and Education, said being fully immersed in the field is the biggest benefit of the program.

“It is such an amazing opportunity for our students to have individuals who are well known experts in their field, that have deep knowledge and are actively doing research and training and to get to work very closely alongside those individuals,” McDonald said.

Through this partnership, St. Joe’s undergraduate students majoring or minoring in autism behavioral studies (ABS) and have worked at the Kinney Center for at least 500 hours can apply to participate in the Jefferson’s SKMC Scholars program in the fall of their junior year. Applicants
are also required to have a minimum ACT score of 30 or SAT score of 1350 and maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA.

Upon completion of the in the Jefferson’s SKMC Scholars program, participants are then accepted to Jefferson’s SKMC without submitting MCAT scores. McCleery said students are able to be accepted to this medical school MCAT free because the idea is to motivate students to study ABS.

McCleery said Jefferson can determine their fit for their medical school through knowing their SAT or ACT scores, GPA, work at the Kinney Center and participation in their SKMC Scholars program.

“Together with Jefferson, we want to produce students with expertise in autism,” McCleery said. “They don’t necessarily have to go into clinical practice in order to work with people with autism, so they aren’t as concerned about the MCATs.”

This program is an attempt to close the gap in autism-specific healthcare, as not many medical doctors choose to go down this specialized area of training, according to McCleery.

“America’s healthcare system remains woefully underprepared to deal with this unique, growing population in medical settings outside of autism-specific interventions,” Mark Tykocinski, M.D., provost of Thomas Jefferson University and The Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, said in a press release. “By preparing future physicians, we will fundamentally change medical care for individuals with autism.”

McDonald said it takes a unique skill set to understand how to engage individuals and their families who are on the spectrum, and both St. Joe’s and Jefferson share the understanding that this education is vital.

“The Kinney Center and the Sidney Kimmel school recognize that there is a need to better prepare medical doctors and physicians with this kind of understanding of how to best provide healthcare to individuals with lots of differences, and in this instance with individuals with autism,” McDonald said.

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