Why does interprofessional education matter?

First, let’s start with the necessary question: what is interprofessional education?

The World Health Organization states, “interprofessional education occurs when students from two or more professions learn about, from and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes.” Instead of educating students of different health professions in silos, students learn alongside each other, recognizing their different specialties and strengths.

By learning alongside different health professions students before entering the workforce, health professionals can collaborate effectively while working with patients. Nurses, social workers, pharmacists, doctors and physical therapists (to name a few) will then have a deeper understanding of the skills each professional brings to the table. At UNE, students learn from each other during simulation labs and the Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education (CECE).

In simulation labs, students from various professions help advise patient actors about their condition. A pharmacy student might inform the “patient” about a drug’s side effects, an osteopathic medicine student might inform the “patient” about the disease, and a social worker might provide resources to help a “patient” who does not have health care. Together, they will figure out the best way to optimize the patient’s health.

CECE hosts guest speakers, sparks discussion, and enables service to the community to educate students about various health concerns and systematic injustices that patients face. Not only do students learn information about health crises from experts, but they also learn to embody values of empathy, humility, and leadership as they step into their future as health professionals.

Why does interprofessional education matter?

This collaboration during education enables health care workers to then collaborate effectively while working with actual patients. Together, they can better diagnose and treat a patient. Interestingly, the World Health Organization noted that some health professionals believe they are working collaboratively because they work with other health professionals. However, WHO defines collaboration more narrowly:

“Collaboration occurs when two or more individuals from different backgrounds with complementary skills interact to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own.”

One way that interprofessional education improves health outcomes is by reducing medical errors. According to the report, To Err Is Human, in the United States, almost 98,000 people “die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors that could have been prevented.” With an integrated approach, these preventable errors will diminish as several perspectives review decisions.

As a leader in interprofessional education, UNE seeks to prepare health care workers who will exemplify collaborative care.