November 18, 2021

New Curriculum at Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing Prepares Nurses to Care for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

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A new and first of its kind curriculum designed for integration into existing primary care nurse practitioner residency programs to improve the health care experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) has been developed by nursing faculty at the Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing at St. John Fisher College’s Wegmans School of Nursing.

The online, modularized curriculum features an in-depth overview of health care topics and best practices in the field of IDD care specifically designed for nurse practitioners engaged in primary care residency programs. The curriculum focuses on practice areas where health outcomes are dramatically different for patients with developmental disabilities such as reproductive health, or where enhanced skills can reduce complications and stress, as in behavioral health. The content, which is divided into five online modules, aims to expand the resident’s understanding of attitudinal, communication, policy, programmatic, social, and physical barriers that individuals with IDD encounter in primary care settings. The new curriculum is being piloted in the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Residency program at Highland Family Medicine, based in Rochester, New York, and will then be distributed to similar residency programs nationwide.

According to Dr. Holly Brown, associate director of the Golisano Institute, the goals of the curriculum are not only better health, better care, and lower costs but also improved knowledge, confidence, and skills for the nurse practitioner.  She said that this combination improves the provider’s sense of well-being, which is a critical part of maintaining a thriving advanced practice nursing workforce.

“There have been too many situations where a patient with sensory challenges comes into a noisy, chaotic setting and may not react well to being overwhelmed. A nurse practitioner with these essential skills can improve the experience of the health care visit, for instance, by collecting health information and accommodation needs in advance. Nurse practitioners can also be change agents by leveraging existing billing systems to sustain and improve the quality of care for these patients,” she explained.

With this new curriculum, the Institute provides an accessible tool for nurse practitioners to address the disparities in health outcomes experienced by individuals with IDD, a group that includes more than 6.5 million people in the United States, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that these individuals face a decreased life expectancy due to myriad factors, including a lack of trained health care professionals and reduced access to routine screenings and exams. In addition, patients with IDD often have multiple and complex conditions, such that their care requires additional time that current care provider systems do not often accommodate.

“Primary care nurse practitioners are on the front line of providing care for this population and yet we receive the least amount of training of any health care profession in working with people with IDD,” said Brown, who is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner in addition to her role at the Institute. “Many skills developed in this program are transferable to our other patients with communication challenges, for instance, older adults with dementia, people who have experienced a stroke, or individuals living with traumatic brain injuries.”

The program was made possible with support from the Golisano Foundation and through an Inclusive Health Innovation grant from Special Olympics International.

“Nurses comprise the largest health profession in the world and spend the most time with patients with IDD, so we were thrilled to fund this grant to help prepare them to provide the best care possible,” said Dr. Alicia Bazzano, chief health officer at Special Olympics.

For more information about the Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing, visit website

About St. John Fisher College

St. John Fisher College is a coeducational liberal arts institution located in Pittsford, N.Y. The campus community consists of over 2,600 full-time undergraduates, nearly 200 part-time undergraduates, and nearly 1,000 graduate students.

Founded in 1948 by the Congregation of St. Basil as a Catholic College for men, St. John Fisher College became independent in 1968 and coeducational in 1971. As it moves through the twenty-first century, the College remains true to its Catholic and Basilian heritage. The College now offers 39 academic majors in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, business, education, and nursing, as well as 11 pre-professional programs. Fisher also offers a variety of master’s and doctoral programs in business, nursing, education, pharmacy, sport management, and public health.

Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing

The Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing was established in 2018 to generate an international cadre of health care professionals prepared with the knowledge, professional skills, and competencies to effectively support people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) throughout the lifespan and across settings.

The Institute is the first of its kind in the country, designed to transform the health care and support of people with IDD through the integration of specialized IDD curriculum into nursing undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. It also works to coordinate and strengthen nursing thought leadership, to foster the creation of a collaborative system of centers of excellence in IDD care, to strengthen expert practice, and to advocate for social justice to improve the quality of life and health outcomes for the IDD population.

About Special Olympics International

Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Special Olympics Unified Sports® partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 Games and competitions every year.

About Tom Golisano and the Golisano Foundation

Tom Golisano — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader — is the founder and chairman of the board of Paychex, Inc., a leading national provider of payroll, human resource, and benefit outsourcing solutions with more than 16,000 employees and 100 office locations nationwide serving more than a half-million small and medium-sized businesses. Tom’s vision, perseverance, and action have left an indelible mark on a broad spectrum of issues that touch our lives – in business, healthcare, education, voter policies, politics, and tax reform. His personal philanthropic contributions to hospitals, educational institutions, and other organizations exceed $330 million. A fierce advocate for dignity and inclusion, Tom Golisano applied his pioneering spirit to establish the Golisano Foundation to help make the world a better place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1985, the Golisano Foundation is now one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With $45 million in gross assets, it awards more than $2 million in grants annually “Imagining the Possibilities,” advocating for families, fighting for their dignity, and giving people with IDD the opportunity to thrive in their communities.

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