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Teaming up: Effective collaboration benefits patients

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Dr. Stephen Thomas, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences, presents a pin from the college to Dr. John Gilbert, keynote speaker at the Interprofessional Health Leadership Conference.
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Nov. 11, 2011)   —   Patients benefit when allied health sciences, dental, medical and nursing students learn about each other, from each other and with each other while still in school.

The challenge is how to bridge the divide between disciplines to better prepare East Carolina University students for collaborative practice in the workplace to foster high quality health care.

Students, faculty and staff gathered Nov. 11 for a conference on interprofessional education and health leadership with an expert in the field, Dr. John Gilbert, principal and professor emeritus in the College of Health Disciplines at the University of British Columbia.

Gilbert is president of the International Association for Interprofessional Education, serves on British Columbia’s Patient Care Quality Review Board, and is project lead of the Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative.     

“This is a golden opportunity to advance the efforts of interdisciplinary education,” said Dr. Phyllis Horns, vice chancellor for health sciences.

Too often, students of different health care backgrounds don’t meet until they are in the workplace, Gilbert said. “We have this incredible disorganization of place and space of how to do this,” he said.

Gilbert suggested ways to bring health sciences students together, including a mandatory introductory, multidisciplinary course focusing on the meaning, measurement and determinants of health. Clean water, literacy and shelter are determinants that shouldn’t be forgotten, he said. Class activities could include community guests and student service-learning projects.

Another would be a team-based course emphasizing interpersonal differences, fear of change, stereotypical rivalry, power, income and language. “We all speak our own secret language and speak through our own acronyms,” he said.

There also has to be an understanding of legislation and regulation that governs practice in each health profession.

Amanda Lytz, a second-year occupational therapy graduate student, said her class has been exposed to different health professionals through guest speakers but haven’t yet begun hands-on, collaborative work.

Fellow occupational therapy student Kristen Davis said it’s important to incorporate interdisciplinary education in the curriculum. “The bottom line is it’s best practice,” said occupational therapy student Danielle Brown.

“It does a disservice to our patients if we don’t learn some of these interdisciplinary skills before we go out there,” Lytz said.

Students should be allowed to develop a sense of their own profession before being exposed to collaboration, Gilbert said. He suggested that the year before graduation, students be immersed in team-based practice and leadership experiences. “We have to prepare for collaboration. It’s not just something you can get through your pores,” Gilbert said. “We want to give our students opportunities to learn and do before they go to practice it.”

Effective collaboration extends beyond an appreciation of working together and being in the same room. It draws on each person’s experiences and knowledge base. “It’s what’s inside their heads,” he said.

Having different caregivers communicate effectively enables good decision-making on behalf of patients, Gilbert said.

“It’s the collaboration that falls apart that leads to adverse events for patients,” he said. “There are huge misses in the system everyday.”

More than 250 people registered for the conference, which was sponsored by the College of Allied Health Sciences and the College of Nursing through a BB&T Leadership grant. The conference, which was video streamed live, focused on two ECU strategic directions: leadership, and health, health care and medical innovation.

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Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764