Adult Education student working to improve pediatric diagnostics

Dr. Tyler Severance

Every other Wednesday around midnight, Dr. Tyler Severance is wide awake: he’s busy on the phone, joining a conference call with colleagues halfway across the world in Kenya. It’s 8 a.m. there, and Severance and a team of doctors, nurses and other medical providers in Indiana and Kenya are working to improve diagnostic rates of pediatric patients with cancer.

The call is part of Severance’s work on Project ECHO, an online video conference tool meant to educate providers and use that education to address health care disparities. Through a grant from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Severance and his team meet twice a month via conference call. Each call begins with a brief 15-20 minute session of best guidelines or new research from an expert. After that, team members present unique or challenging scenarios they have seen, giving the group a chance to teach and learn from each other. Because identifiable patient information is not included, each call can be saved for anyone who missed the call or wants to listen again. 

Severance, a pediatric hematologist andoncologist, is currently in year two of a fellowship at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. While his first year was busy with clinic hours and seeing patients, his second year has been more flexible with time built in to grow his medical knowledge and skills. As he has always been interested in medical education, he chose to grow with the Adult Education program at the School of Education. The program’s flexible online schedule has fit in perfectly with his ongoing responsibilities at Riley.

By using education, we are empowering local health care providers to better care for patients with complex medical needs.

Dr. Tyler Severance

“I’m still very much immersed in patient care, and the School of Education has been wonderfully supportive,” Severance said. “Because the classes are online, I can work and adapt and take classes. The learning with my classmates is wonderful, we can email, we can chat. I feel from a class standpoint, the flexibility is just awesome.”

His work in adult education has already made a difference through Project ECHO. This semester Severance is taking a course in distance education systems and already can see how he can apply this type of education to making a difference with cancer patients.

“No one has ever applied ECHO to pediatric cancer before,” he said. “By using education, we are empowering local health care providers to better care for patients with complex medical needs.”

Through a partnership with AMPATH, the work Severance and many others are doing in Kenya started with a three-step assessment. First, the team looked at epidemiology data to figure out the number of cancer patients they should be seeing, compared to the number they were seeing. The next step was visiting a local hospital, where they found a lot of similarities between the symptoms malaria patients were presenting with and the symptoms of pediatric cancer patients. There, they discovered the tests used to diagnose malaria could also be used to diagnose leukemia. Finally, they put on an annual conference in Eldoret, Kenya, where Severance presented the data his team hadcollected and looked to their partners in Kenya for next steps.

The Project ECHO Kenya team on a recent conference call

“At the end we asked 'what type of education do you want to empower you to better diagnose pediatric cancer,' but instead of once a year they wanted sustained educational opportunities. With that framework in place, we know they’re interested, we know there’s a need, and we know we can better reach these patients,” Severance said. 

Now with by meeting twice a month, the team hopes they’ll see changes for the better when they reassess the project in a year. As he continues toward his degree in adult education, Severance acknowledges that he underappreciated the mentorship with the program and says he is very thankful for the invaluable insight of his instructor in Adult Education, Clinical Assistant Professor Marjorie Treff.

“She was helpful while I was on the ground in Kenya, and she’s also been helpful since I’ve returned. As challenges and issues rise up, or as I’m working through the grant process, she’s helped me with that too,” Severance said. “She’s a member of my general oversight committee. She’s sitting right next to physicians and oncologists and is able to offer a totally different perspective on how my training and research can fit into the word of pediatric oncology. I feel very grateful all of these worlds come together pretty seamlessly." 

“It’s a huge team effort that’s really coming together,” he added. “There are so many wonderful team members all working in unison, I feel very fortunate to be part of a team that’s open to challenging the status quo. I think we have so much potential because there’s so many great needs and health care disparities, and education is giving us an extra weapon to attack it.”