Connecting the dots: The role of interprofessional education

Underlying everything at the IU Regional Academic Health Center is the benefit of working and collaborating with those outside your own profession. This cross-collaborative strategy is often referred to as interprofessional education and is the sole purpose of Indiana University's Interprofessional Practice and Education Center.

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Students from the IU School of Optometry, School of Public Health-Bloomington and Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences listen to "Jordan," portrayed by simulated patient Anne Carroll, during an interprofessional immersion experience.  Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

The center works with students, faculty, health professionals and community leaders to improve health care and meet the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's Triple Aim: improved satisfaction, lower per-capita health care costs and improved outcomes for population health.

"The goal of what we do is to create better care for patients and populations," said Barbara Maxwell, director of the Interprofessional Practice and Education Center. "If our work never reaches patients or populations then it simply becomes an academic exercise and is for naught."

The center uses a specific curriculum to teach IU health sciences students how to build partnerships, work in teams, and develop competency in interprofessional collaboration and practice. Through the TEACH curriculum -- which stands for Team Education Advancing Collaboration in Healthcare -- students expand their experience beyond their specific major, learn specific communication methods for working in interprofessional teams and then apply that knowledge to patient care.

"We're working to connect the dots in health care and expose students to working with different professions," Maxwell said. "We strive to develop collaboration-ready practitioners through our curriculum -- future health professionals who value collaborative care and work effectively in teams."

The TEACH curriculum includes three phases: exposure, immersion and entry to practice. During the exposure phase, students interact online with other health sciences students across the state to learn about the roles and responsibilities of different health professions, opportunities for collaboration and interprofessional communication strategies.

The students then choose from various experience options to practice the previously learned skills alongside students in other health sciences areas. The capstone of the curriculum is the entry-to-practice phase in which students can apply and be assessed on their collaboration skills through practicum opportunities.

"We're really working to get rid of the hierarchy we often see in health care and expose our students to working with different professions," Maxwell said. "It's about addressing the holistic needs of the patient, working well with partners and advocating for your patients' care."

Since 2014, when the center was established, it has brought this collaborative approach to education and health care to students across the state. Even student groups are connecting outside the classroom and developing an interprofessional student group collaborative.

As an integral part of the of IU Regional Academic Health Center, the Interprofessional Practice and Education Center will be a key aspect of future collaborations between health sciences education at IU and IU Health Bloomington.

"By being together in an academic health center setting, we're not only focused on interprofessional education, but true interprofessional practice," said Deb Wellman, IU Health southern Indiana associate chief nursing officer. "Interprofessional practice is the foundation of how we've built and designed the new IU Health Bloomington. The care team of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, social workers and providers will be embedded on each inpatient unit promoting improved practice collaboration and overall patient care."

Maxwell added that co-location of academic facilities and health care facilities can improve the coordination of care by integrating care between professions and increasing the number of opportunities for collaboration across different health professions.

"I'm excited that our students will be exposed to real teams, doing real work," Maxwell said. "It will give them even more opportunity to think deeply about their role and immerse themselves in a real health care team.

"Partnerships start with people. With the opportunity for new partnerships right next door, we'll be better able to make connections, strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones. An academic health sciences building sitting next to a hospital is a dream for interprofessional and collaborative training."