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Breathe easier with certificate programs at The Michener Institute

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an awkward mouthful routinely shortened to COPD. But however it's expressed, you don't want it. It usually means you're suffering from emphysema or chronic bronchitis brought on in most cases by smoking, second- hand smoke or occupational hazard.

And while there's not much sufferers can do to reverse their condition, they and their families can be taught disease self-management to mitigate some of the worst aspects of their ailment.

That's where the certificate programs at The Michener Institute for Health Sciences in Toronto come in. The downtown institute offers a COPD Educator Graduate Certificate program and a Respiratory Patient Educator program that covers COPD and asthma.

Andrea White Markham is a registered respiratory therapist on the faculty of the Michener Institute and teaches in educator programs. She says most of the applicants have a health-care background -- RRTs, of course, nurses, physiotherapists and even pharmacists. Some social workers also sign up, says White Markham, but study "can be difficult" without the medical background.

The COPD program begins next January and there's no limit on the number of students who may enrol. "You (students) learn about adult education theory and behaviour change, models and theories and then you practise. So you learn on your own and then you come to a workshop and you practise your techniques and get feedback on it. You learn to do one-on-one education and group education. You learn about the disease itself. We talk about smoking cessation and medications," White Markham says.

The workshop lasts four days and students have up to three years to complete the entire COPD program, including any work that can be completed online.

Teach self-management

Graduates of the COPD program almost always work in a hospital or for an organization such as the Ontario Lung Association, White Markham says. They teach disease self-management to anyone with COPD, irrespective of age, although of course patients tend to be over 40. They also teach their families and other caregivers. And it's all free -- free for patients and families -- and a gift from the educators themselves because hospitals don't have the funds to pay them any extra for these duties.

The majority of the students in the COPD program are women, White Markham says, and generally speaking they're people who have 10 years or more health-care experience. The tuition fee for the COPD program is about $1,260.

The Respiratory Patient Educator program, which covers asthma and COPD sufferers, is a new venture at the Michener Institute, merging two programs into one. It begins Nov. 1, and tuition costs about $2,200. White Markham expects it will attract the same kind of applicants as the COPD program. Its content will be broadly similar to the standalone COPD program -- teaching self-management, up to three years to complete, mandatory workshop attendance and so on. One significant difference, however, is that asthma patient educators must write a national certification exam.

Diane Feldman is an RRT who works for the Ontario Lung Association in Toronto. Feldman was certified as an asthma educator in 1999 and received her COPD certificate in 2003.

"The whole idea (of the educator programs) is to give people self-management skills," she says. That means students have to learn educational theories and skills to effect behavioural change among patients. So, says Feldman, a smoker who's never considered quitting might at least start to entertain the idea once he's heard from an educator. And that will be the smartest health-related move he will ever make.

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