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Currently, the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic is the worst public health crisis in Pennsylvania and addiction problems within the Lehigh Valley far outpace the number of health professionals trained to provide care in the field of Addiction Medicine. Additionally, negative attitudes towards individuals with substance use disorder are prevalent among health care providers. Unfortunately, this trend may continue as preprofessional health care curricula across many disciplines still lack the social, emotional, and behavioral competencies to treat patients with substance use disorder. Lehigh Valley Health Network has been an integral community-based partner in addressing the multi-faceted disease of Opioid Use Disorder and, as such, has developed a preprofessional health care student educational program aimed at reducing stigma and cultivating hope. The immersive education experience is an integrated simulation within an existing educational curriculum which provides a comprehensive, authentic context for learning, coupled with guidance from expert modeling. The study was conducted in a mixed-methods research design to investigate the impact of an immersive education experience on participants’ hope levels and use of hopeful communication. Participants (N = 100) from two vocational-technical schools from the Lehigh Valley participated in the study. Initial core data collection occurred at two points in time: pre- and post- the immersive education experience (N = 61) and pre- and post- the education-only (N = 39). The self-reported data was collected from a digital web-based survey and included two single item Likert scale questions and one response question. A purposive sampling technique was used to select participants for the supplemental component which occurred thirty days post with the immersive education experience (N = 11) and the education-only (N = 8) groups. A repeat post survey was administered, and focus groups were conducted. The quantitative and qualitative results indicated that after an immersive education experience, participants reported positive hope levels congruent with their use of relationship and hope based inspirational messaging and demonstrated an increased utilization of normalizing messages, a destigmatizing technique founded in counseling literature. A notable finding was the education-only component, when delivered in isolation of the immersive education experience, increased participants’ fear and perceived susceptibility and may have contributed to the stigmatizing language it was designed to prevent.


Education | Medical Education


Department of Education, Student Affairs

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