Tearing Down Barriers from the Beginning
I am one of the 12 medical students from the class of 2020 who was fortunate enough to participate in the Interprofessional Education Program (IPEP). The objective of IPEP is to prepare students of different health professions in working together toward the common goal of building a safer, more patient-centered and community-oriented health care system.
Collectively, 36 health professions students from the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Public Health, and Clinical & Rehabilitative Health Sciences as well as departments of Social Work and Psychology participated in the program. Students of the different health professions engaged in interactive learning sessions with other health professions students in both didactic and real-world clinical settings. This program is structured for the participants to engage in four full-day, competency- specific sessions during the first two years of our professional education. The core competencies focused on interprofessional communication, values/ethics for interprofessional practice, teams & teamwork, and roles & responsibilities. These “IPE Days” included didactic teaching and case-based simulation training among student teams made up of a cohort of students from different health professions.
To present a frame of reference, my cohort consisted of health professions students in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, nutrition, psychology, and social work. During the spring of our second year, the student cohorts partnered with local agencies to carry out two community engagement projects. The community engagement projects were the highlight of IPEP because they provided us the opportunity to reflect on the skills we developed over the first few years of our education and how to apply these skills in a real-world setting. For my cohort’s first project, we partnered with ETSU Physicians Infectious Disease, which is a large, freestanding facility staffed by a collaborative group of both Family Medicine and Infectious Disease physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, phlebotomists, and social workers. Dr. Jonathan Moorman, the Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine, gave my cohort a tour of the practice and explained how they developed such a strong, collaborative patient-centered model. After speaking with different members of the team and patients, I became more excited about collaborative care because I got to see that it is practical and truly works to improve patient outcomes and safety. According to the World Health Organization, by implementing interprofessional collaboration, learning to work together, and respecting one another's perspectives in health care; multiple disciplines can work more effectively as a team to help improve patient outcomes. In order for this type of collaborative system to work, every member of the health care team has to be on board – and yes, this includes the patient too!
Overall, the IPE program has been a fruitful experience and has helped me appreciate the value of team-based patient-centered care. Moving forward, I would be elated to see ETSU break down more barriers
between the different health professions and further integrate our curriculums. For example, in the second year of medical school, students start spending more time in the simulation lab for hands-on learning experience. Working through patient simulations in the lab would be a great time to start integrating students from other health professions. One roadblock that frequently comes up in sim lab is medication and dosing. Though I realize that looking up medications/dosing on the spot has its own educational value, there might be added benefit to having a pharmacy student in the room who could function as a member of the team and maybe even help teach us something. Also, instead of having a faculty member play the role of a nurse, wouldn’t it be easier to have a nursing student in the room with us?
Developing communication skills and understanding roles and responsibilities early on in our educations would certainly be beneficial. When health care providers can communicate with one another and identify themselves as an integral part of a larger health care team rather than just learning their discipline-specific role, patients will receive the best care.