Go, team

January 11, 2009
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A team approach is a proven way to improve patient care. Now Grand Rapids educators are trying to figure out how to teach students in the health professions to work together.

Interprofessional education was the topic for a Grand Valley State University conference last week, as local leaders in health care gathered to brainstorm ways to bring students together.

“In the old days of Marcus Welby, he would swoop in and look after one patient in a single episode and solve their problem on his own,” said Dr. Peter Coggan, president and CEO of Grand Rapids Medical Education & Research Center.

“Health care just doesn’t happen that way any more. Everyone looks after patients with the help and support of members of other health professions. One of the things we haven’t done well in the past is to educate these professions to work together. We train them in silos … yet we somehow expect them to understand each others’ roles, capacities and skills when they get into practice, and work together as a harmonious team. We’ve been thinking about how we can develop programs to solve this problem.”

Jean Nagelkerk, Grand Valley State University’s vice provost for health, said the opening of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine provides Grand Rapids a chance to create cutting-edge interprofessional education programs.

“We would be on the cutting edge if we could pull the community together,” she said. “We are just starting to do interdisciplinary work. Now, with the medical school, it’s a perfect time to have a blueprint.”

GRMERC, GVSU and MSU-CHM representatives have been meeting for six months and have developed a draft “West Michigan model” for interprofessional education, Nagelkerk said. One of the goals of the conference was to present the model and solicit additional ideas, she said.

“This is like our kick-off to start West Michigan interprofessional education initiatives,” Nagelkerk said.

Coggan said there are several challenges to implementing interprofessional education activities.

“First of all, getting the right people in the room talking to each other. And creating a culture of changes involves breaking down the very real barriers between professionals. The third issue will be fostering some flexibility in the curricula, so that we can modify them to bring students from one training program in with another without affecting accreditation requirements for that program.

“Finally, we need to get the work environment to accept some team approaches to patient care.”

The conference also featured three nationally known speakers: Linda Cronenwett, dean and professor of the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addressed the purposes and approaches to interprofessional education; Dr. David Garr, a professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina and executive director of the South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium, spoke about educating interprofessional teams; and Anthony M. Errichetti, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of the New York Institute of Technology, discussed the use of various types of patient simulation in the interprofessional education setting.

While there are scattered attempts at interprofessional education across the country, nowhere has it been developed as a comprehensive approach, Coggan said.

“If we can do it here, we may be able to provide some regional or national leadership.”

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