The case for interprofessional education

- May 22, 2009

“All of these diverse members of the health team should be brought together during their undergraduate years, taught by the same classrooms and on the same patients.”

Back in 1964, when pediatrician John F. McCreary wrote about inter-professional education for university students in the health-care field, it was a revolutionary idea. Forty years on, Dr. McCreary’s UBC colleague John Gilbert believes it’s an idea long since overdue.

At the conference, Collaborating Across Borders II, Dr. Gilbert argued there’s been a lot of progress made towards collaborative patient-centred care in the past 40 years on both sides of the border. To go forward, Canada and the U.S. can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.


“We can share what we’ve done,” urged Dr. Gilbert, the project lead and chair of the Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative (CIHC) during the conference’s opening session on Wednesday, May 20. “There’s no need to keep reinventing the same stuff.”

More than 450 health care practitioners and educators—including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech language therapists, social workers, hygienists, nurses, doctors and dentists to name a few—gathered at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel for three days of packed programming.

So, what is interprofessional education? It’s the process by which students are educated to work collaboratively, requiring health-care providers to practice in a way that allows for and accepts shared skills and knowledge. Ideally, interprofessionally educated students will become health care workers who are comfortable interacting in teams and who are focused on the patient’s wellbeing.

Budget gobble

In her remarks, Cheryl Doiron, Nova Scotia’s Deputy Minister of Health, said interprofessional education and collaborative practices are the way to go “for better care, better quality and a more sustainable health care system.”

The costs associated with health care continue to rise. If the revenues of the province and the costs of health care remain consistent, the Department of Health will continue to “eat up every new dollar coming into the system,” she said. And, in 20 years, health care costs would “overtake every other government department.”

“If there has ever been a time for our province to work at transformation and to address these issues, our chance is now,” she said.

There’s no need to convince Will Webster. Since he became Dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Health Professions in 2005, he’s been working to encourage interprofessional education among the nine schools and two colleges under the Faculty of Health Professions umbrella and with the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry.

Practicum placements

Will Webster, Dean, Faculty of Health Professions.

Not being a health professional himself, Dr. Webster said he had no turf to protect and could only see the benefits of students and faculty members coming together across schools and faculties.

“When I arrived, I saw all these separate programs that had little to do with each other,” said Dr. Webster, an experimental psychologist. “There was very little interaction going on at the student level.”

But a cultural change takes time, notes Dr. Webster. He says Dalhousie has made the most progress on interprofessional education with students of various disciplines in practicum placements and on patient simulations staged by the Learning Resource Centre.

“I think the students are the champions of this and really understand the benefits,” he said. “They’re the ones who are going to move us ahead.”

Collaborating Across Borders II is sponsored by CIHC, along with the Dalhousie Faculties of Health Professions, Medicine and Dentistry and the Nova Scotia Department of Health. The third edition of the conference moves to Phoenix, Arizona in 2011.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus