November 24, 2010

Interprofessional Education: Building a Bridge to Interprofessional Cooperation

By Susan Montenegro, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Union Memorial Hospital
Many schools boast having an “interprofessional culture,” which (apparently) they define as having more than one health professional school located on the same campus. But simply having schools across the street from each other, sharing a cafeteria, and hosting a few campus-wide social events, does not come close to building the relationships needed for optimal patient care. Many students in the health professions are taught a structured approach to managing a patient. So interprofessional education (IPE) shouldn’t be so difficult – should it? How can educators from different schools build bridges and encourage students to make the journey? How do we encourage the healthcare system to sustain these bridges?
I envision the answer to this question to be a three step process analogous to constructing a bridge to connect two places. Step 1 is putting together a blue print and building a structure.  As with any improvement process, first you need to put everything down on paper so everyone can see it. How will the bridge be built? Who will build it? Who will pay for it? Why is the bridge necessary? What are the benefits? A plan must be made and a proposal submitted to garner the support of the university, and secure the funds needed, to build the structure. Once these things are secured, those in charge of the project can begin to lay the foundations.
The American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) released a White Paper on IPE which describes considerations relevant to IPE.1  Fundamentally, it is important for students to understand the knowledge and skills that other members of the healthcare team possess. Students must also realize that different professions take different approaches to patient problems in terms of assessment and evaluation. The paper describes several examples of IPE models.  Each approach has its strengths and future IPE programs can be optimized by building on these examples.
Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska has a number of IPE initiatives.2 Collaborative Care Seminars are held one half-day each semester and involve students in dentisty, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, and social work.  During these seminars, students are encouraged to reflect on what their own profession’s contributes to patient care and how to work together and understand what other professions have to offer. The Medical Center also offers a clinical conference and grand rounds series during which case-based discussions are led by panelists from the various health professions. This allows students to learn and observe how to participate in similar discussions once they start clinical training.
Step 2 is convincing the students to take the journey across the bridge. Students will only make the journey if they understand the importance of arriving at the destination. Where are they going? Why are they being asked to cross into unknown territory and away from familiar and safe ground? What are the benefits?
Another example from Kings College in London involves pairing a fourth year pharmacy student and a third year medical student to work together.3  Both students are starting their clinical year of training, so they have similar amounts of clinical experience and knowledge of therapeutics. Each student pair is assigned a patient with the objective of obtaining a medical and medication history.  The student pair is then instructed to organize the information and present it to a group of faculty and students.  They are expected to summarize the patient problems, the rationale and appropriateness of the treatment regimen, and how to monitor the patient for efficacy and adverse effects.  The results of this activity have been positive, with the medical students learning how to be more proficient at collecting the medical history of a patient and the pharmacy students being more proficient at collecting and managing the patient’s medication history. This type of activity is promising to demonstrating to health professionals early during their training how to maximize patient care by relying on the strengths of different professions.
A post-course questionnaire administered after the student pair activity found that 95% of pharmacy and medical students agreed or strongly agreed that it was useful to learn with other disciplines; 88% agreed or strongly agreed that there were equal contributions from both students; and 83% agreed or strongly agreed that more sessions were needed.3  This data shows that, given the opportunity, students are willing to meet other professions half-way and see the benefit in doing so.
Step 3 is ensuring that the destination (on the other side of the bridge) exists ... developing and continuing to foster the types of working environments where recent graduates can continue to use the skills they learned during IPE. This may require more time to develop as it will require holistic support. Not all clinicians have experienced IPE and many may feel threatened by the changes it will require. However as more programs move in the direction of IPE and as more workplaces emphasize the importance of inter-professional teams, the bridge built by educators will become stronger, producing a brighter and more promising future to optimize patient care.
In 2001, the Institute of Medicine released a report addressing the gaps in health care in the U.S. and how to redesign the health system. Titled, “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century,” this report stated that health care needs to be safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable.4  Included in the report were 10 general principles meant to guide improvements to meet these health care needs. One principle, stated quite simply and directly, “Cooperation among clinicians is a priority.” Thus, it is clear that our healthcare system needs to move towards interprofessional cooperation and that IPE will play an important role in making that future a reality.

1.  American College of Clinical Pharmacy. ACCP white paper. Interprofessional education: principles and application. A framework for clinical pharmacy. Pharmacotherapy 2009; 29: 145e-164e. [Accessed September 26, 2010].
2.  Interprofessional Education. Creighton University Medical Center. [Accessed: November 22, 2010]
3.  Greene RJ, Cavell GF, Jackson SHD. Interprofessional clinical education of medical and pharmacy students. Medical Education. 1996;30:129-133.
4.  Institute of Medicine.  Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the Twenty-first CenturyWashington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001.

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