Students bridging disciplines in health care

Experiencing interprofessional care first hand

- March 12, 2012

Members of the "Rockin' Rehab" team discuss their work. (Danny Abriel photo)
Members of the "Rockin' Rehab" team discuss their work. (Danny Abriel photo)

Making the transition from daycare to Grade Primary can be stressful for any youngster. But for Van, a four-year-old boy with type II spinal muscular atrophy, that transition is even more challenging.

Luckily, a group of students in Dalhousie’s Faculties of Health Professions and Medicine are working together, along with students from other institutions, to alleviate that kind of stress for youngsters like Van and their families – "working together" being the key words.

As part of their interprofessional education (IPE) clinical placements, groups of students from various disciplines like nursing, pharmacy, and nutrition collaborate to work with patients from the IWK and District Health Authorities across the province.

Last month, seven teams of students from 12 professions each presented a brief yet detailed case study on each of their respective patients at the IWK Health Centre. Cases ranged from preparing a teenage girl with leukemia to return home, to educating a 14-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis and diabetes about his illness.

“There is mounting evidence that interprofessional collaborative practice improves patient outcomes and patient safety,” says Anne Godden-Webster, interprofessional experience coordinator in the Faculty of Health Professions. “Patient safety and efficient and effective use of health human resources are the primary drivers for interprofessional collaboration.”

Rockin’ Rehab

After meeting with Van and his family, the Rockin’ Rehab Team - students from Dal nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, recreational therapy, and physiotherapy - worked together to successfully transition the four-year-old from daycare to grade school by September 2012.

Van's spinal muscular atrophy, a progressive muscle deterioration and weakness, means his playground activities will differ from those of the average student and his teachers must be aware of his medical needs.

Amber Bischoff, completing the final year of her MSc in Occupational Therapy, was responsible for making sure Van was still able to participate in school activities despite his disease. She says learned through this experience that maintaining clear communication with both your team members and the patient’s family members is crucial.

“One of the biggest lessons working with Van was to truly listen to [a patient’s] family so the focus is always on the client and their priorities, desires and needs regardless of what you think might be best for them,” she says. 

Tracey Crabtree, who’s completing her final year in speech-language pathology, says each team member brought a unique perspective while working with Van, noting that interprofessional teams allow this type of collaboration to maximize the patient’s care.

“By developing interprofessional teams in a number of specific areas, each family's needs may be addressed with all team members on board. The family takes a central role in the team,” she says. “[In turn] they may feel more control over the decision-making process surrounding their child's care.

Out of the classroom, into the real world

This approach is intuitive, but it's actually light years ahead of the standard in health professional preparation, explains Will Webster, dean of the Faculty of Health Professions.

“This teamwork is a really important part of an evolving interprofessional health education agenda that’s being undertaken at Dalhousie to provide opportunities for students to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes required by health professionals to work together in collaborative teams in the contemporary health workplace,” he says.
Interprofessional placements are being developed as one means of moving IPE from theory to practice, explains Ms. Godden-Webster.

The Faculty of Health Professions established mandatory requirements for IPE effective for all students entering Dal in September 2011. These requirements span a continuum from the classroom to the practice setting, and at least one of the experiences must be in the practice setting.


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