The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with USF Health to train providers to better care for women patients.
It's part of a five-year contract that involves bi-annual training sessions in downtown Tampa for hundreds of VA doctors and nurses from across the country.
While female veterans still make up only a small portion of VA patients, their population has more than tripled in recent decades, going from 160,000 patients in 2001 to 500,000 currently.
“A lot of (VA) physicians were used to taking care of our Vietnam veterans, World War II veterans, which majority were men, so you have these doctors that graduated from medical school many years ago that hadn’t been traditionally taking care of women veterans,” said Dr. Haru Okuda, Executive Director of USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, which hosts the training.
Participants attend lectures on the latest updates in women's health care. They also practice procedures like breast and pelvic exams on mannequins that can mimic various situations a patient may experience, like fibroids or pregnancy.
What makes USF Health stand out, according to VA officials is its large staff of “GTA’s” or “gynecologic teaching associates.” These women are trained to allow providers to practice on their bodies, creating an almost-real patient experience.
“They can teach them different techniques, they can teach them different ways of saying things to a patient that will make them more comfortable," said Barbara Palmer, Deputy Field Director of Women Health Services for the VA’s Central Office.
The training, known as the Women’s Health Mini Residency Program was piloted back in 2007 and started off as regional training. It grew to a national program over the years and was previously hosted in Orlando, with help from USF staff.
Organizers said having a five-year contract in Tampa makes for a more consistent program.