University News

Students from Three Majors Come Together for One Project in the Name of Health

William Paterson University adopts uncommon approach to interprofessional education

A student group presents its interprofessional diagnosis and treatment plan.

William Paterson University is putting its own spin on an education ideology commonly employed at medical schools. In a pilot program launched this semester, students in their respective courses in nursing, communication disorders and science and exercise science joined forces for an end-of-semester presentation of a multi-week project: developing an interprofessional comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan for each of their case-study patients.

“We need to collaborate for that patient in the bed,” says Kem Louie, professor and graduate director of nursing and the driving force behind the University’s inter-professional pilot program. “Research shows, and from my nursing experience I know, that collaboration increases quality of care and improves patient outcomes. The more we can educate our students in this prior to them getting out, the more likely they’ll be to inculcate that value as practitioners.”

Interprofessional Collaborative Education (IPE) has become more prevalent in medical education over the past decade, falling in line with a global health movement toward team-based patient care. In IPE settings, professors and students in medicine, dentistry, osteopathy, pharmacy and public health – among others – teach and learn together. In professional practice, a physician often serves as team captain, and in typical IPE settings, aspiring physicians serve in that role.

But Louie points out that nurse practitioners diagnose patients and manage their care, just as a physician would. “Also, once the patient is out of the hospital, in rehab and ready to go home, other specialists continue to manage that patient’s needs,” she explains. She is subsequently of of the mindset that IPE need not be physician-centered, and therefore, need not be relegated to colleges that house medical programs.

That concept was put to the test on Monday, November 28, when eight student groups of about five members each took the stage in the library auditorium. Each group presented its interprofessional diagnoses and treatment plans, as well as what members learned from one another in the process, for case-study patients who require various degrees of nursing, speech/language/cognitive therapy and physical rehabilitation.

Not only did the students learn more about the specialties of the other disciplines they were exposed to, but they also received helpful tips and lessons from their counterparts in applied health. Nursing students made fellow group members aware of medications that could reduce alertness during speech/language therapy or increase heart rate in physical therapy sessions. Aspiring speech language pathologists taught fellow group members that they shouldn’t assume stroke survivors understand all verbal directions and suggested visual aids for patients with aphasia.

Michael A. Figueroa, associate professor of kinesiology; Betty Kollia, professor of communication disorders and sciences; and Persephone Vargas, assistant professor of nursing, taught the courses that teamed up for the pilot program. The professors took turns meeting in their respective locations on campus to coordinate lessons and come up with case studies. They organized their groups of cross-major students through Blackboard, where members of each group could, in addition to meeting in person, learn to communicate and collaborate as a team and participate in online discussions related to their assignments.

“I was very impressed to see how all of the students worked together. I feel they all developed a mutual respect and appreciation for each other,” Figueroa says. “I think, often, when students are concentrated in a major, they feel like they are isolated, and when they go into the workforce and have to work with people from different fields, it can be challenging.”

“Their presentations were an exemplar as to what should be done during IPE meetings or rounds,” Vargas adds. Noting how nurse practitioners are expected to collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide quality and holistic patient care, she says she was really excited about this project and its results.

Louie and the trio of professors who took part in the pilot program distributed pre- and post-project student questionnaires focusing on what participants wanted to learn, what they learned, and how the program could be improved. With that information, they will begin brainstorming ways to enhance the University’s IPE efforts going forward.  

“Interprofessional teamwork is not something that necessarily comes naturally,” Kollia says. “While we teach students to work in teams within our professional areas, I believe we also need to train them to work in teams across professions and to learn how to synthesize varied information. Much work can be done on this aspect, including at our professional level. We are only beginning this exciting work.”

Ken Wolf, dean of the College of Science and Health, says he is more than happy about the University’s unique take on IPE and the benefits it affords students of applied health.

“Imagine in football if the quarterbacks only practiced with the quarterbacks, and the offensive linemen only practiced with the offensive linemen. How are they supposed to come together to play the game on Sunday,” Wolf asks. “Think of all the people you deal with when a patient is in the hospital – doctors, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists … if you expect to have a coordinated game plan and good outcome, those people need to know how to work together.”