University of South Carolina expands interprofessional education

In 2001, Josie King, an 18-month old burn victim, died while being cared for at Johns Hopkins. She died not from her wounds, but of thirst.

The tragic case is a common teaching tool to illustrate the importance of collaboration between disciplines in delivering patient care. On January 18, some 450 students from five disciplines will be introduced to interprofessional education by tackling the King case, the first of several evidence-based cases they’ll work on together as they usher in a new era of interprofessional education (IPE) at the University of South Carolina.

The students are taking the expanded course Transforming Healthcare for the Future, which is now required for students in pharmacy, medicine and nursing, and is available as an elective for public health and social work.

“Discussing how the system failed a patient and figuring out what could and should have been done differently is the best way I can think of how to transform health care,” said Benjamin Rush, who participated in a medicine-pharmacy pilot last year. The second-year USC School of Medicine student, along with many other students, encouraged adding nursing students to the course.

The multi-discipline curricular reform, supported by USC Provost Michael Amiridis, is driven by a global healthcare environment increasingly committed to collaborative work.

“We ask and expect health care professionals – doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others – to work effectively together and perform well in an interdisciplinary team, yet we traditionally educate them separately in fairly isolated silos,” Amiridis said. “This doesn’t make much sense, does it?”

According to the World Health Organization, “Once students understand how to work interprofessionally, they are ready to enter the workplace as a member of the collaborative practice team. This is a key step in moving health systems from fragmentation to a position of strength.”

Toward that end, national academic health professional associations formed the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) in 2009, and in 2011 issued the report Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, giving a mandate to institutions of healthcare education.

“Our goal is for the students to be competent in these areas before they graduate,” said Betsy Blake, assistant professor and director of interprofessional education at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP) and chair of the Interprofessional Education for the Health Sciences Committee at USC. “Students need to be trained in the way we actually practice.”

Blake and other faculty members who coordinate the course practice the collaboration they preach. The course is modeled on a similar required course at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), which, along with USC, founded the SCCP. While IPE was already in the required pharmacy curriculum, it had to be adapted to fit other curricula.

The solution was to offer the course as a required two-hour credit for the SCCP and embed it in the required courses Introduction to Clinical Medicine (first-year medicine) and Nursing Leadership and Management (senior nursing). The course has a course coordinator from each school and some 30 facilitators drawn from faculty, residents and upper level students.

“We’re delighted that nursing is joining the IPE initiative this year and we hope the program will continue to grow,” said Beverly Baliko, course coordinator and associate professor at the USC College of Nursing.  “This is a great opportunity for students in the related disciplines to become more familiar with each other’s abilities and perspectives.  Not only will they learn from each other, but they’ll be better prepared to collaborate in a way that can truly effect positive change in the health care system and improve patient outcomes.”

On January 18, students will be introduced to their teams and review the King case as an interdisciplinary group via directed discussion questions. After reaching conclusions, a selected leader will report to the whole class for additional discussion and feedback. The class is the first of three live class meetings, which are supplemented by online interactive discussion series.

The course is designed so students will

  • begin to understand the importance of communication across health professions
  • be exposed to methods to incorporate evidence based medicine, social determinants of health, and cultural competency into future decision making
  • compare healthcare systems around the world and discuss methods to improve the US healthcare system
  • analyze specific cases to perform a root cause analysis to determine the elements that contributed to errors in the healthcare process

Components of the course have been mapped to IPEC Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice which has been endorsed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, and the Association of Schools of Public Health.  The Interprofessional Education for the Health Sciences committee, comprised of representatives from each of the five health science units at USC, continues to work to create and expand opportunities that will enhance interprofessional communication and team skills to improve the quality of care provided.

“The response to the pilot last year has been very positive from both our students and faculty,” said J.T. Thornhill, M.D., course coordinator and associate dean for medical education and academic affairs at the School of Medicine.  “The course allows both our students and faculty to interact collaboratively and learn from each other before beginning their clinical rotations.  As the course title implies, the experience really will transform health care as we know it.”

January 15, 2012