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Interprofessional Initiative Draws Faculty and Students into Healthcare’s New World of Teamwork


Date: October 18, 2013
Media Contact: Ashley Wiggin,, 206-221-2456

The UW schools of health sciences are at the forefront of a national sea-change in the way healthcare is taught and delivered.  Interprofessional teams are the new “name of the game.”  And the schools are jumping in with excitement and anticipation. 

The UW Board of Health Sciences Deans, chaired by Thomas Baillie, dean of the School of Pharmacy, has launched the Interprofessional Education Initiative: Vision for a Collaborative Future that lays the foundation for progressive integration of collaborative learning across the UW’s six schools of health sciences—dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work.

“This is the single most important multidisciplinary initiative of our time, in terms of impact and scope.  The nature of healthcare is changing rapidly and significantly; much of it driven by cost and technology, and a changing workforce,” Baillie said.

“To meet these pressures, healthcare must take a more team-based approach. This will require healthcare professionals working together to bring the best solutions to health concerns facing individuals and communities.   Today’s healthcare students need an awareness of issues, challenges and perspectives of colleagues outside their particular disciplines.”

Students from all six health sciences schools are participating in the new Foundations of Interprofessional Practice curriculum, a seven-session series in which students work together in consistent teams solving real health challenges. 

The sheer number of students—more than 600—is a logistical challenge. Led by Karen McDonough, associate professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine, a core interprofessional group of faculty has met weekly and spent countless hours developing the curriculum over the last six months. 

This series is one of several activities of the Interprofessional Education Initiative, which has set an ambitious path and is moving forward quickly. Sarah Shannon, associate professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems, leads the subcommittee focused on curriculum and metrics for measuring outcomes from these efforts.  The subcommittee reports to a larger committee, chaired by Dave Anderson, executive director of Health Sciences Administration.  This Interprofessional Education Implementation Committee was charged by the six health sciences deans with addressing the need for increased focus on interprofessional education at a number of different levels, including curriculum.

Faculty, too, need preparation for the new world of interprofessional education.  On Sept. 17, McDonough and Brenda Zierler, professor of behavioral nursing and health systems, led a faculty development workshop, Teaching Interprofessional Learners, attended by 77 individuals from across the six schools.  Working in interprofessional teams, faculty first explored new methods for teaching specific interprofessional core competencies. Then, using video clips produced with funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant Technology Enhanced Interprofessional Education for Advanced Practice Students,  faculty worked together to problem-solve how to help students navigate awkward or conflictual interactions as a team.  Zierler is the principal investigator on the grant.

Faculty put their new skills to work a week later on Sept. 24, at the IPE Healthcare Team Kickoff.  Nearly 600 students attended the event, held in six different locations across the UW campus, including the new Odegaard Undergraduate Library active learning spaces.

McDonough explained the process:   “This year we’re laying the foundation of interprofessional practice by having students participate in seven sessions over the year.  The sessions will include collaborative learning projects, role-playing, individual and group learning plans, and case studies that approximate situations, such as medical error disclosure, that may be faced on the job.  There are many ways of maximizing collaborative learning through service learning, at clinical sites, and through shared classes.”

As students were getting to know each other in the kick-off session, they shared stories about themselves and their chosen professions.  Strangers to one another at the start of the session, students warmed to their new colleagues, sharing insights and strategies.  One team consisting of students from medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, social work and physician assistant programs, shared thoughts about experiences and insights after their first meeting:

A doctoral student in the School of Social Work:  “I learned that team-based solutions are more beneficial. I knew this intuitively,   but to experience it in a short time and with such diversity around the table brought new insight. I hope to inform other health professionals about the skills and roles that a social worker has in health settings.”

A second-year medical student:  “Talking with students in different degree programs was the first time I learned about training involved in these other programs, which definitely gave me a better understanding of the role they play in patient care.”

First-year physician assistant (PA) student Matthew Smith summarized his experience:

“As a physician assistant student, the critical importance of teamwork is drilled into our education. The greatest insight from the IPE session was hearing that this is not just a theory, but that there is evidence that demonstrates better patient care when teams collaborate (shorter hospital stays, fewer medical errors, etc.) 

Smith went on:  “It was a great opportunity to explain the roles, responsibilities and capabilities of our profession. In turn, I learned a lot about what doctors, dentists, nurses, social workers and dieticians do. The best patient care will come from a collaboration of all these subsets of the healthcare team.  I plan to seek out a job in a place that values and utilizes each of these roles.

Students should get to know each other well across multiple sessions and develop a deeper understanding of the roles each health profession plays.  A core goal of the initiative is to improve health—individual health and population health.  The two are inextricably tied together—addressing health disparities, for example, is a pathway to improving individual health.  When they graduate, students should be ready to take a collaborative, integrated, team-based approach to solving 21st century health issues.  

In future years, the initiative will also include organized student activities like integrated service learning opportunities, post-licensure, interprofessional practice options, and other team-based options.  Brenda Zierler, who is serving as an Interprofessional Scholar, is focusing on post-licensure practice that complements the pre-licensure curriculum.  She has been a leader in IPE at UW for a number of years. 

Baillie said there is enthusiasm about interprofessional education throughout the University of Washington, including UW President Michael Young, Provost Ana Marie Cauce, and each of the deans. Baillie said, “What really excites me is seeing students think outside the box and understanding that they can make many contributions to the treatment of patients beyond what they face in their individual disciplines by participating jointly in solving problems,” Baillie said.

 “We have the opportunity to change the nature of healthcare through this initiative,” Baillie continued. “We have an opportunity to take a national leadership role because we have a track record of receiving funding from national champions of interprofessional education, including the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and HRSA.  Our unique structure of having all six schools in close proximity helps collaboration.”

“This is an opportunity to impact health care in Washington to make it more effective, higher quality and lower cost.  Ultimately, this approach will lead to more effective and economical delivery of healthcare and education, as well. “

Feedback from students participating in the Sept. 24 IPE foundations curriculum corroborates Baillie’s projections.   The door is open to a new world of team-based healthcare, with the UW serving as a national vanguard.

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