Brenau Scholar Abigail Sandifer

Sophomore Abigail Sandifer on Panel at National Health Conference

Abigail Sandifer, a sophomore health sciences major from Stapleton, Georgia, and a 2015-16 Brenau Scholar, spoke on a panel at the ImproveCareNow National Conference on Sept. 15-17 in Chicago, Illinois, as a member of the International Council of Nurses’ Patient Advisory Council.

“It was my first time in Chicago – in the Midwest at all. I have always lived here in the South,” she says. “It was really exciting to be in a new city and meet all the different people who were there at the conference. Some came from as far as England and other European countries. It was like being in a completely different country for me.”

Sandifer was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease a few years ago while in high school. Because it is an “invisible disease,” one in which the symptoms are all internal, many do not understand the full impact on those affected by the condition. Sandifer remembers that her high school was not always supportive of her when she had to miss school days or important events. But through her involvement with the Patient Advisory Council, an organization of young individuals who are Crohn’s patient advocates from across the country, she soon met others who have also been affected by the disease, whether it is directly or through family members.

Sandifer started at Brenau as an English major but promptly switched to a health sciences, pre-nursing major due to her involvement in the PAC and working with children with serious health conditions.

Abigail Sandifer, a sophomore health sciences major from Stapleton, Ga., at the ImproveCareNow National Conference in Chicago. (Courtesy Abigail Sandifer)PAC invited her to speak at the national conference for ImproveCareNow, an organization that seeks to transform the health, care and costs for young people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by building a sustainable, collaborative chronic care network. Over 300 physicians, nurses, psychologists, dietitians, parents and patients all attended the three-day conference at the Chicago Marriott O’Hare.

Sandifer discussed the importance of patients being self-advocates, taking an active role in addressing their own medical needs, including taking their medication, attending appointments and building a solid patient-provider relationship.

“Often a doctor may look over a patient’s charts, and say, ‘All right, on to the next,’” Sandifer says. “And patients can be intimidated to approach their doctors to ask for more help. But we can encourage patients to say, ‘Wait, I’m going through some mental trauma right now. I need your help.’ Doctors can get to learn more about their patients: where they’re from, what they go through on a daily basis. The better the patient-doctor relationship, the better the treatment can be.”

Sandifer also attended a panel about the connection between mental and physical health and the importance of both in healing patients, regardless of their condition. The discussion resonated with her, as she often finds that those who practice psychology and those who practice physical therapy and nursing are in separate spheres. She would love to start an organization on campus that could help share the knowledge and exercise what she learned from the ImproveCareNow conference or develop ways to help bring Brenau’s psychology and the physical health sciences students to work closer together.

After graduating with a BSN Sandifer hopes to work in an acute care setting for a year and apply to graduate school to administer anesthesia as a nurse.

You may also read the article about her in the Winter 2015-16 issue of the Brenau Window.

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