Changing the tone of dementia | Meet the Knoxville doctor training the next generation of memory disorder experts

By Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor, PYA

It’s one thing to start a nonprofit. It’s another to donate your medical practice to that nonprofit with the goal of training the next generation to care for those who came before them.

That’s the goal of both Genesis Neuroscience Clinic and the Tennessee Memory Disorders Foundation (TMDF), founded by medical director Dr. Monica Crane.

Crane is passionate about helping those with memory loss disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. She’s a leading expert in her field.

“I love older adults, I love stories,” said Crane. “And the Alzheimer’s field is an area that is of tremendous need, so the amount of good that we can do is incredible.”

Crane’s been working to care for as many older adults as possible since opening Genesis Neuroscience Clinic in west Knoxville in 2017.

“I created this practice to offer community–based dementia care,” said Crane. “But also to support a mentorship program for students that are underrepresented in medicine, and hopefully to feel and inspire our future leaders in the dementia and geriatric medicine space.”

In five years, she’s worked hard to do just that.

“We started off with zero patients, and we have an active patient panel of over 4,500,” she said. “I think we’ve seen nearly 10,000 or so patients.”

That’s a lot of people coming to her for help, in a field with not as much easy access as others. Crane wants people to know that memory disorder diagnoses don’t have to be bad news.

“I think a lot of folks associate Alzheimer’s disease with gloom and doom. And really, I feel like we’re just on the cusp of finding treatments and hopefully a cure soon,” said Crane.

She wants to change the tone for patients and providers. That’s why in 2021 she founded the Tennessee Memory Disorders Foundation, in many ways to complement the strong internship program she started years before.

“I love to teach,” said Crane. “We have medical residents, medical students, undergraduates, graduates. We have lots of young people that are at many different stages of their training. And being a part of this clinic really gives them a chance to learn a lot more about Alzheimer’s disease.”

Tiana Ross, Dr. Monica Crane, and Aruha Khan at Genesis Neuroscience Clinic

Crane loves to teach, and her interns love to learn from her.

“I think she’s a great clinician, she’s a great provider, but also an amazing teacher and facilitator,” said Lead Medical Assistant Aruha Khan.

“I love how hands on she is. Teaching is very important to her and it’s very obvious,” said Clinical Coordinator Tiana Ross.

Khan and Ross gained those titles over time, but don’t be fooled – they’re both interns. Both students graduated from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) this past May and are applying for medical school.

These interns said they’ve learned how to read and understand MRI images, which is rare to be exposed to as undergraduate students. They’re in many ways learning things many other students would have to wait years to witness firsthand.

One of the main goals of TMDF is to subsidize what’s mainly an unpaid internship program. It’s something Khan and Ross have benefitted from.

“The goals are to really sustain the internship program, provide more teaching opportunities, educational outreach, and then also be able to support patients that are in need,” said Crane. “As an example, we had a patient that couldn’t afford an MRI. We were able to actually pay for it, pay another vendor for those services. And that feels amazing that we’re able to make sure everyone gets care.”

Crane dedicated Genesis to the foundation last year to make this possible. Since then families of former patients have created scholarships and funds for both interns and patients. Crane’s desire to get more people interested in geriatric care is coming to fruition.

“Before I started here, I did not even know geriatrics was its own field. And now I’m really involved in it,” said Ross.

She’s glad that Crane focuses on hiring interns of diverse backgrounds, races, and communities to add more depth to the pool of future practitioners.

“I remember growing up how I’ve never had any health care provider in any field that looked like me,” said Ross. “So it’s great coming here and knowing that we’re trying to prevent that issue for the next generation.”

Genesis and TMDF works with the research department at UTK, and that’s piqued Khan’s interest. She wants to go into the research side of the field.

“I think it’s really interesting seeing how clinical research can play directly into patient care. And this is a firsthand way to get that kind of exposure, but also the nonprofit aspect of it.,” said Khan.

Watching Crane turn her business into a nonprofit inspired Khan to start her own nonprofit, Student Advocates for Medicine in Politics.

“That nonprofit actually focuses on education for future healthcare workers to do things like Dr. Monica Crane does, so very inspired by her,” said Khan.

It’s that passion from her interns, and her passion for the field, that excited Crane about the future of her field.

“I think just knowing that there’s a real, direct impact is the most important thing, and it really warms my heart,” said Crane. “It brings me so much joy to see young people inspired in this because they are the future leaders in dementia care.”

TMDF is always accepting donations, you can donate here.

If you’re interested in interning for Dr. Crane, you can apply here.

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