When real-life patients present, their ailments often require treatment from a variety of experts—physicians aren’t the only professionals patients will interact with. So medical schools are building new programs to educate students about health care teams, but implementing such a curriculum isn’t easy.

Interprofessional education breaks the tradition of health professions students that are educated in siloes and instead places them together in a variety of education settings. The goal of these new programs is for students to learn the skills of collaboration and team care that lead to improved patient care outcomes.

These learning strategies are gaining steam in schools across the country, such as at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland. But the school has discovered that coordinating university-wide curricula can be challenging—things like room scheduling, school calendars and discipline-specific cultures can be impediments to implementation.

Beginning the change
As a consortium member of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Educationinitiative, OHSU is making sweeping changes to its curricula and has madeinterprofessional education a cornerstone.

“Early on, we had an institutional commitment to interprofessional education and collaborative practice,” Jeanette Mladenovic, MD (pictured right), executive vice president and provost at OHSU, said at the consortium’s recent meeting. “We partner, we collaborate and we innovate. Under that strategic plan, every aspect has something about interprofessional education.”

The school is designing sessions that put dental, medical, nursing, nutrition, physician assistant and radiation therapy students together to learn specific skills while they also examine issues such as professionalism and professional identity formation. Students will learn clinical foundation skills together and will practice clinical scenarios side by side as they progress through their education.

Encountering challenges
The first step required to allow all health professions students to work together started by aligning all calendars to ensure students were on the same schedules. This included neighboring institutions Portland State University and Oregon State University.

“This set the stage for moving forward,” Dr. Mladenovic said. “We could orient all 500 beginning students at the same time.”

But it wasn’t a totally smooth transition, she said.

“The culture of the schools was very different,” Dr. Mladenovic said. “There are faculty and language differences …. It was a change for us as an institution to say, ‘this is not just for medical students.’”

Other consortium schools, including the University of Michigan Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, also are tackling the challenges of interprofessional education.

Part of the consortium’s work is to reinforce the importance of change and to eliminate the tendency to say that “we’ve done things the way we’ve done them forever,” Dr. Mladenovic said.

“We need flexibility because health care is changing,” she said. “We’ll have students of different levels, different backgrounds, different experiences. We need to make sure the profession views themselves as totally dependent on other professions to deliver the kind of care we need to keep the population healthy—and that requires a huge culture change.”

Originally Published by AMA Wire on 5/7/2015