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Interprofessional Education Begins at Michigan

Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work Learn Together

Ann Arbor, MI — January 30, 2015 — The new year began in a novel way for students from five University of Michigan schools and colleges.  They made academic history.

On the afternoon of January 14, 52 students gathered in the Kellogg Auditorium at the School of Dentistry to participate in one of the university’s first courses in interprofessional education.  They were among approximately 270 students in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work who began studying and working as teams of professionals.  In the months ahead, students will rotate through all five schools and colleges working to solve difficult patient care cases. 

Students in the course taught at the School of Dentistry, DENT 760 for Health Professions IPE, are now learning more about how each profession contributes to health care and the importance of effective communication and collaboration in clinical decision making.   The School of Dentistry part of the course is taught by Dr. Mark Fitzgerald, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics (CRSE), and Dr. Gundy Sweet, clinical professor of pharmacy and director of curriculum assessment. 

Also helping develop the dentistry unit is Dr. Nikki Sweier, clinical associate professor of dentistry in CRSE.  She teaches the nursing component of the course taught at the School of Nursing with course leader, Dr. Michelle Pardee, a clinical assistant professor of nursing. 

Building a Team

All students were assigned to a team that consisted of students from other schools or colleges.  As class began in the Kellogg Auditorium, Fitzgerald asked students to raise their hands if this was the first time they had set foot in the School of Dentistry.  About 60 percent of them did.

After welcoming them, students of each team participated in several “ice breakers” and then listed and discussed some of the stereotypes common to each profession.  Students also took two short quizzes on interprofessional collaboration and the roles of each group of professionals.

There was no mistaking the seriousness of the journey the students were taking.  One of the first messages they saw was a photo of silos on a farm.  Next to the photo was this note:  “Our practice is interdisciplinary.  Our research is interdisciplinary.  But our education is siloed.”  That message set the stage for what followed.

“The purpose of this course is to help you to prepare to work together as you help others,” Fitzgerald said.  “Health care today requires an interdisciplinary approach to patient care.  That will accelerate in the future.  You will probably see more changes in the approach to patient care during the next ten years than what Dr. Sweet and I have seen in the past thirty.”

In addition to learning about each others’ professions and the roles each discipline has on the health care team, students will examine how different viewpoints in each profession can affect patient care decisions, recognize personal and team attributes that either improve or compromise team effectiveness and the quality of care a patient ultimately receives, and develop team-based plans for patients with complex conditions.

Enthusiastic Feedback

“I have had nothing but positive comments from students I have talked to since the end of the first class,” Fitzgerald said.  “The positive, energetic participation and response among all students present was not only evident, but increasingly noticeable as the session continued.”

Sweet agreed.  “I was very pleased with the positive energy we saw in the classroom.  Students were genuinely interested in learning about, with, and from each other, which is the true spirit of interprofessional education,” she said.  Sweet said when she heard similar comments from other colleagues, “I was thrilled.  This is exactly what we hoped for.”

Fitzgerald concurred.  “From a faculty’s perspective, you could not ask for more.  But what is really a bonus is the team of faculty who are involved and the incredible, collaborative, cooperative and fun times we are having creating and presenting this course.”