The Imperative for Interprofessional Education

May 17, 2011, 2:29 PM, Posted by

The Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) released a groundbreaking report that recommends competencies for interprofessional health education to promote collaborative, team-based care, and strategies to implement them. This post is the first in a series in which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF’s) Human Capital Blog speaks to leaders of this initiative. The first interview is with RWJF senior program officer Maryjoan Ladden, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N.

Human Capital Blog: What matters most about the report you released last week?

Maryjoan Ladden: It provides a real roadmap for the change we need in health professions education, in order to make real a vision of interdisciplinary health care that is more patient-centered, higher quality and safer.

This report wasn’t created by just one organization or person, or by just one group. It results from a collaborative effort between government, funders, educators, health system leaders, providers—all of whom recognized that something fundamental needs to change in the way we are educating health care professionals.

Beyond issuing this report, we all stand ready to play a role in making that change. That’s why we didn’t just issue a report detailing core competencies but rather, a second piece with strategies for action to ensure that they are widely used. To me, that is exciting because, as a nurse practitioner I’ve seen first-hand the challenges associated with collaboration – especially when health professionals are thrown together for the first time in a busy practice setting and have to work together without any preparation to do so. And I know too well the harm to patients when their health care providers do not work well together. We need to turn that around and we need to do it now.

HCB: How do you want to see it used?

Ladden: What’s most important is that this report not sit on a shelf. I want to see it looking worn, with dog-eared pages, notations in the margins and highlighted passages on the desks of educators all across the country.

That is to say, I want to see it used, to see the competencies integrated into curricula and the recommendations used to make changes in education, practice and policy. This report lays a foundation for educating health professionals in ways that support interprofessional collaboration so we can more reliably deliver high-quality, safe, patient-centered care. Leaving it on a shelf would be tantamount to rolling back the clock on health care. I think the will is there for action and change now.

HCB: Why do you believe the timing is right to advance interprofessional collaboration in education and practice?

Ladden: This is the perfect time to make changes in our health care system and that starts with the way we educate providers. Numerous factors are already changing our health system. A major factor is health reform, which will bring some 30 million previously uninsured people into the health care system. Unless we adapt, we won’t be able to accommodate that influx. Health reform, an aging population, a more diverse population and increased use of information technology in health care systems demand that health professionals work better together. Many professional organizations are already talking about the importance of collaboration. To do it right, we need to change the way we educate health professionals.

HCB: Two years from now, what the most important change you’d like to see as a result of this effort?

Ladden: In two years, I’d like to see more interprofessional education pilot sites around the country and the beginning of wholesale changes in the way we educate the next generation of health care providers.

We haven’t yet begun faculty development in interprofessional education, so that needs to be addressed first.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has provided funding for testing interprofessional practice models. In two years, I hope we’ve identified successful models and colleges and universities across the country are beginning to use them.

The bottom line is that interprofessional education is the essential foundation for successful interprofessional practice. Our success as a nation – in building a health care system that gives all Americans access to the care they need from well prepared health professionals and teams that provide high-quality, safe, patient centered care – begins here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.