Advancing Interprofessional Education

Leading health educators and foundations release new core competencies and action strategies to implement them.

    • May 16, 2011

Health professionals must work collaboratively and in fully functional teams if the nation’s health care system is to better meet the needs of patients. Collaboration and teamwork can best be achieved if it starts early, with students from different professions engaging in interactive learning with each other.

That new vision for health professional education was endorsed by six leading health professions education associations and three private foundations, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), on Tuesday, May 10 with the release of two landmark reports. The new reports recommend both competencies for interprofessional health education and strategies to implement them. The competencies are designed to help transform the nation’s health care system so it provides collaborative, high quality, and cost effective care for all patients.

In releasing the new competencies, Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N., administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, noted the benefits when students who are preparing for careers in different health professions “learn together with the aim of together delivering high quality health care.” Wakefield said collaborative teams “bring better patient outcomes and better patient satisfaction with their care.”

“Because our resources have limits, we have an obligation to apply them as effectively as possible,” she continued, urging that students “be educated in ways that model and promote collaboration.” Wakefield said the new reports position the nation for “real and tangible progress” on interprofessional education.

“Health care delivered in teams is better health care,” agreed George E. Thibault, M.D., president of the The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. “We can’t change the delivery system until we change education.”

“We have good evidence that health care delivered in teams is more efficient and more effective, yet we continue to educate our health professionals in silos,” said Maryjoan D. Ladden, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., senior program officer at RWJF. “To meet the public’s health needs, health professions educators must teach and model collaborative practice and team-based models of care. While some health professions schools are making these changes, it’s not happening fast enough or broadly enough. By putting forward these competencies, we hope to accelerate efforts to transform health professions education in the United States.”

The new competencies are outlined in Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice, which was produced by an expert panel convened in 2009 by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). The panel was charged with identifying individual-level core interprofessional competencies for future health professionals. It proposed four domains of core competencies needed to provide integrated, high-quality care to patients within the nation’s current, evolving health care system. It also identified 38 specific sub-competencies that describe the essential behaviors across the four domains. The panel recommended that future health professionals be able to:

  • Assert values and ethics of interprofessional practice by placing the interests, dignity, and respect of patients at the center of health care delivery, and embracing the cultural diversity and differences of health care teams.
  • Leverage the unique roles and responsibilities of interprofessional partners to appropriately assess and address the health care needs of patients and populations served.
  • Communicate with patients, families, communities, and other health professionals in support of a team approach to preventing disease and disability, maintaining health, and treating disease.
  • Perform effectively in various team roles to deliver patient/population-centered care that is safe, timely, efficient, effective, and equitable.
  • “No single profession alone can achieve the goal” of educating professionals to work collaboratively and effectively as teams, said Carol A. Aschenbrener, M.D., executive vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges. She issued a call to heighten collaboration across disciplines to maximize the strengths that individual professions can bring to the delivery of care.

The second report, Team-Based Competencies, Building a Shared Foundation for Education and Clinical Practice, results from a conference sponsored by RWJF, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the ABIM Foundation in partnership with IPEC. Held in February, the conference brought together more than 80 leaders from various health professions to preview the core competencies presented by IPEC, and create action strategies to use them to “transform health professional education and health care delivery in the United States.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Ladden pledged a vigorous campaign to ensure that the new reports are implemented, rather than sitting on shelves.

The strategies to implement the IPEC core competencies and move to a system of educating health professionals to work collaboratively are:

  1. Communicate and disseminate the core competencies to key stakeholders—academic deans, policy-makers, and health care leaders, and launch an education campaign that makes the critical link between collaborative health care teams and providing high quality, safe, and cost-sensitive treatment.
  2. Prepare faculty for teaching students how to work effectively as part of a team and encourage all health professions to use the competencies in their fields.
  3. Develop metrics for interprofessional education and collaborative care to help advance team-based competencies in teaching and practice.
  4. Forge partnerships among the academic community, health care providers, and government agencies to advance interprofessional education.

“This is truly a moment in history that finds alignment” across disciplines in support of the new core competencies, said Lucinda L. Maine, Ph.D., R.Ph.,executive vice president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

Others who spoke at the new conference to release the new reports: Geraldine “Polly” Bednash, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., CEO and executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing; and Richard W. Valachovic, D.M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the American Dental Education Association.

IPEC is a partnership of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, American Dental Education Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, and Association of Schools of Public Health.

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