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Collaborating in Curriculum: Interprofessional Learning

Taking a health history is one of the most important skills in health care. Careful listening, sharing of information and good rapport are required to begin to build trust between practitioner and patient.

During a recent session of Foundations for Interprofessional Practice HMTD 515, students listened intently and took notes as a volunteer patient talked about her struggle to control her hyperlipidemia, then tried to answer questions about the statin she was taking for the condition before interjecting that, by the way, a knee injury was bothering her, too.

Brooke Robertson, a pathologists’ assistant student in the College of Health Professions, was one of an interprofessional group that also included medical and pharmacy students. “One of the most important things I noticed interacting with other medical professionals is how important it is to streamline and explain what you’re saying,” said Brooke, a former EMT. “What makes sense to you might not make sense to the patient or other professional. Don’t assume they understand.”

“It’s really important that for anyone we interact with in the lab that we really explain what we want to know and what we’re looking for,” Ms. Robertson said. “I will use a different set of terms or vocabulary communicating with a pathologist than a lab manager. You have to make sure you’re getting the right thing across and they’re interpreting it correctly, otherwise, you could be risking the number one, most important thing, patient care.”

The HMTD 515 interprofessional course, first offered in 2004, is designed for all first-year, on-campus clinical students and is built around the Interprofessional Education Collaborative’s Core Competencies for Interprofessional Practice: teamwork, communication, values/ethics, and roles and responsibilities.

“The purpose is to help students define roles and responsibilities of the different professions and also to see that they all need similar information and the benefit of sharing that information,” said Susan Tappert, PT, MS, DPT, assistant professor in the Department of Interprofessional Healthcare Studies and founding director of the university’s DeWitt C. Baldwin Institute for Interprofessional Education.

“What a physical therapist knows about a patient can help a nurse treat the same patient,” said Dr. Tappert, who is among a roster of community volunteers, patients who can choose how much of their personal health histories to share and who also give students feedback on their communication skills.

“We ask them to be very honest with students about the interaction,” Dr. Tappert said. “Did they answer questions? How was their tone of voice? Did they understand the words they used?”

Volunteer patient Richard Rossiter, a retired corporate learning and development specialist, shared with students details of his diagnosis and treatment for a malignant brain tumor discovered nearly eight years ago.

“They get all my actual facts,” he said. “That’s why I’m a good patient to bring in. I have a lot to share. They can ask any question they want. I hold nothing back.” During the follow up critique, Mr. Rossiter told a young pre-professional that he could tell by his body language and facial expression that he was uncomfortable.

“He was very open to what I had to say,” Mr. Rossiter said. “He really listened and even stayed after for more feedback. In a provider/patient situation, most people really want someone who is going to focus on them, relate to them, look them in the eye, just pay close attention, even for a few seconds. That goes a long way, as opposed to getting immediately into data or a prognosis. That connection is vital.”

Interprofessional elective courses are in development, according to Bill Gordon, DMin, Baldwin Institute associate director, and more courses overall will touch on interprofessional collaborative practice, teamwork and competencies in health care. The university is also piloting a model that expands interprofessional learning and reflection into clinical rotations. Meanwhile, the HMTD introductory course continues to evolve. Next academic year, volunteer patients will share, “in a more cogent way,” Dr. Gordon said, their experiences in health care — including what they wish healthcare professionals knew.

“The real value of HMTD 515 is that students see that communication between professions is a cornerstone of good practice, that the patient benefits when all professionals come together on their behalf, and that the patient at the center of care is the most important part of the team,” Dr. Tappert said.