WesternU Makes Big Impact at Special Olympics

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University sends dozens of health-care volunteers to World Games to conduct athlete exams

Western University of Health Sciences faculty, students and alumni were a critical part of the success of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world this year and the single biggest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Games.

The World Games, held July 25 through August 2, 2015, benefited from the participation of WesternU’s colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMP), graduate nursing (CGN), pharmacy (COP), allied health professions (CAHP), dentistry (CDM), podiatric medicine (CPM) and optometry (CO). Students, faculty and alumni from the colleges played key roles in organizing volunteer efforts and ensuring the health and well-being of athletes before and during the Games.

COMP Director of Clinical Education Natalie Nevins, DO ’97, served as medical director for MedFest, which provided the physical exam that all athletes needed prior to participating in Special Olympics sports programming. She and her team reviewed all medical records for about 7,000 athletes from 177 countries, with an initial goal of finding high-risk athletes. Health care providers and students then evaluated the athletes during MedFest so they could be cleared to participate in the Games.

“We have to take into consideration their special conditions and needs, as well as what type of athletic sports they’re playing, so we can weigh the risks of any medical conditions they have that will still allow them to play safely and to fully enjoy the Games,” said Nevins, whose team examined 600 to 700 athletes at MedFest in two days at two sites – USC and UCLA.

Dr. Matt Holder, global medical advisor for Special Olympics International and head of the Medical Advisory Committee, helped found MedFest in 2007.

“I can’t imagine it being done without Dr. Nevins and without the support of WesternU,” Holder said. “Ultimately, between MedFest at USC and UCLA, we have 200 to 300 health care volunteers that are pulling off this event for our athletes. We can’t do it without the volunteers. There is no way you could pay for all this.”

WesternU faculty and students provided health examinations during the Games in special tents set up in and around USC’s McCarthy Quad, organized by discipline -- Fit Feet for podiatric medicine, Special Olympics--Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes for optometry, and Special Smiles for dental medicine. Physician Assistant Studies faculty, students and alumni provided first aid services during FanFest.

As the WesternU liaison to the advisory board for the Special Olympics, Dr. Karen Hanford, Dean of the College of Graduate Nursing and a member of the medical advisory board for the Games, gathered representatives from all of the colleges to explore WesternU’s collective support leading up to the Special Olympics.

“The spirit of enthusiasm from our colleges to ‘step up to the plate’ was overwhelming,” Hanford said. “It was a natural fit to demonstrate our support of interprofessional practice and to work with our colleagues to support the athletes, as well as the mission of Olympic Games.”

The Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition to more than 2.5 million children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded it in 1968. According to its website, 30,000 volunteers and 500,000 spectators were expected at the Special Olympics World Games.

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Western University of Health Sciences (http://www.westernu.edu), located in Pomona, Calif. and Lebanon, Ore., is an independent nonprofit health professions university, conferring degrees in biomedical sciences, dental medicine, health sciences, medical sciences, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, podiatric medicine and veterinary medicine. WesternU is home to the Patient Care Center, where the best in collaborative health care services is offered. The Chronicle of Higher Education named WesternU a Great College to Work For in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

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Jeff Malet
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