Future Pharmacists Learn Health Care Teamwork

January 30, 2014

University of Iowa College of Pharmacy students are learning to collaborate with other health care professionals to benefit patients.

An 18-month pilot course, called Interprofessional Skills and Team Based Health Care, was launched last fall. For this year’s first-year UI pharmacy students, it fulfills Introductory Practice Experience (IPPE) requirements. First-year students from the colleges of dentistry, nursing, public health, and medicine are also participating.

“The idea is to enable students entering various health professions to learn about each other, with each other, and from each other so they learn to function as a collaborative health care team before they actually go into the practice environment,” said Lori Benz, the staff member for the Interprofessional Education (IPE) at Iowa.

During a fall kickoff event at the Iowa Memorial Union, course administrators placed 499 health sciences students into 62 interprofessional teams. A professional actor portraying fictional patient Irene P. Hendricks-Eagan introduced an ongoing case study. Since then, the students have continued working on Ms. Eagan’s case in small groups through Iowa Courses Online (ICON), led by steering committee members acting as facilitators.

On Friday, Jan. 24, each of the 62 teams met in the involved colleges for their second in-person gathering. One of the teams that met in the College of Pharmacy was facilitated by Assistant Professor (Clinical) Michelle Fravel. It included two pharmacy students, two medical students, and one student each from physical therapy, dentistry, and public health.

The team was asked to prioritize their concerns for Ms. Eagan, following an emergency dental visit to drain an abscess. Each student had a laptop in front of them connected to Ms. Eagan’s case on ICON containing patient details as they considered her case. She has diabetes, high blood pressure, and back pain.

“I highly doubt she knows that smoking is the number two risk factor for periodontitis,” said Hayley Wittnebel, pharmacy student, repeating a fact she had just learned from dental student Taylor Geyer. “So if we can explain that to her in a way that she understands, that would be beneficial.”

The group set quitting smoking as the fictitious patient’s first priority, followed by other lifestyle changes. The students agreed Ms. Eagan, herself, should help prioritize her health concerns.

The students also were presented with a list of 14 health care tasks, and asked which task applies to which profession.

“In some ways you could check almost every box for every person,” said Frederick Ruckersfeldt, medical student. “I would be more curious to know not if a particular task is ever a part of a specific person’s role, but rather to decide who should perform that task to make the most efficient team.”

The students clarified what each other’s roles actually are in their respective fields.

The UI has had scattered elements of Interprofessional Education for at least 15 years, said Benz, but in 2011 the university’s Health Sciences Policy Council set forth to deliberately coordinate efforts. Deans from involved colleges appointed members to an IPE at Iowa steering committee, which began its work in May of 2012.

Benz stated that well-developed IPE programs exist in many Canadian academic institutions and health systems. The American Interprofessional Health Collaborative’s website lists 22 IPE programs in the United States. Many other institutions have begun developing IPE- focused programs as well. In November 2013, the IPE Steering Committee presented a Report and Strategic Plan for Interprofessional Education in the Health Science Colleges to  the UI Health Science Policy Council which is now reviewing the recommendations.

For more information, please visit the IPE at Iowa website.