By: Jennifer Anderson, MSW, LCSW, MAC
For decades, regional, national, and international health care organizations have called for reform in the education of health professionals and have urged that health profession students no longer receive instruction in isolation. The term “health professions” refers to any discipline that provides patient care, such as but not limited to pharmacists, nurses, doctors, occupational and physical therapists, dentists, and social workers. There has been increased focus on re-training the health care delivery system to promote interprofessional teamwork, collaborative care, and to improve institutional quality and safety. The question becomes: How can health care providers learn to collaborate effectively in the provision of health care, when they are educated in separation from one another?
To answer that question, specific interprofessional collaborative practice competencies were developed for all health professions students and for existing health care professionals. The passage of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Steinbrook, 2009) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010) have created a myriad of new health care delivery models in hopes of achieving better outcomes in care. These new models require health care students and providers to be trained in interprofessional collaborative practices to promote safe, effective, and high quality health care services. These new models embrace interprofessional collaborative practices and interprofessional education efforts.
And so began the emergence of new acronyms and a new field with greater opportunities for social work students looking to learn about, from, and within health care settings. Social work students and social work professionals will need to learn these new acronyms. One is IPE, or interprofessional education. The second is IPCP, or interprofessional collaborative practice.
Beginning in 2009, a panel of six national education associations, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the American Dental Education Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Association of Schools of Public Health, met as a group to create the competency-based movement of interprofessional education, IPE, which consists of four primary domains and subsequent competencies (Ten Cate & Scheele, 2007). Interprofessional education (IPE) occurs “when students from two or more professions learn about, from, and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes” (World Health Organization [WHO], 2010, p. 30). The goal of IPE is to prepare competent health care professionals by educating all students in the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for collaborative interprofessional practice. Both the competency domains and specific competencies were left to be amenable, wide-ranging, and contextualized to the individual discipline and the clinical or institutional setting in which they would be applied. IPCP is linked to IPE.
These two new acronyms have developed into a myriad of opportunities for social work students and social work professionals. Academic institutions across the nation are seeking to break down the educational silos and create programs, case simulations, case competitions, clinical or field practicum experiences, and experiential learning initiatives both in and outside of the classroom for multiple disciplines to partner in learning “about” health care delivery, “from” all potential providers that provide primary to ancillary patient care, and to do so “within” a style of collaboration and shared decision-making reflective of patient-centered theory.
The common feature across all IPE programs, models, and/or initiatives is that there is an “integrated application of knowledge where the student can adapt to change, develop new behaviors, and continue to improve performance” (Walsh, Gordon, Marshall, Wilson, & Hunt, 2005, p 232). Given the fact that all health profession students perform an internship, clinical rotation, and/or field practicum, IPE creates a wonderful opportunity for social work students to learn IPCP as they enter into their field education programming. Ensuring that health care settings that serve as field sites are ready to create an IPE- and IPCP-rich learning environment is another opportunity for the field of social work.
Research on IPE and IPCP certainly supports this, as social work is one of the most frequently invited disciplines in IPE initiatives, and as such, social work students learn and practice collaboratively with other disciplines, such as nursing, pharmacy, medicine, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, dentistry, and lab sciences (Graybeal, Long, Scalise-Smith, & Zeibig, 2011). It is interesting to note that not all of these health professions were initially invited to participate in the creation of the national IPE and IPCP domains and competencies. This creates another opportunity for social workers—advocacy for inclusion in the movement of IPE and IPCP competency and domain development, research, instruction, and evaluation.
What about health care professionals who missed out on participating in models or initiatives in IPE or IPCP when they were students? The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) implemented a charge to increase the educational and training efforts of health care professionals that included didactic and clinical training sessions across the health care disciplines. Title VII-Part D, Interdisciplinary Community-based Linkages, provides a mechanism for the creation and promotion of IPE and IPCP training of health care professionals through its support of Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) (Advisory Committee on Interdisciplinary Community-Based Linkages, 2005; Health Resources and Services Administration [HRSA], 2010; Wilson, Rozensky, & Weiss, 2010). Policy has been written for the training of IPCP for those functioning as health care professionals from primary providers to allied health providers, and by extension to ancillary providers, such as social workers. Conferences, workshops, and educational experiences are being developed rapidly to respond to the decreed call for professionals to practice interprofessionally and collaboratively. Social workers can assist in modeling team work; explaining pertinent theories behind collaboration and group work; and instructing our peers on our professional ethics, values, scope of practice, and how we assist in patient care.
From outcomes studies in health care and research, through emerging policies, and with the support of several national health professional associations, the profession of social work has a unique opportunity to get involved with an emerging trend in the education of health professionals and in health care. Social work students and professionals can contribute in four very significant ways: 1) student and faculty development and participation in academic-based IPE initiatives, 2) the development of IPE-ready interprofessional field sites for the promotion of IPCP, 3) the re-shaping of existing health care teams to embrace, enhance, and reflect collaborative practice ideals and patient-centered practices, and 4) policy development and sustainable funding for IPE and IPCP efforts.
For students interested in employment or field work in health care settings, the evolution of IPE and IPCP offers a wealth of learning about the field of health care, with other disciplines, and from approaches in collaborative practice. More information about the competencies and domains for IPCP can be found at http://www.aacn.nche.edu/education-resources/ipecreport.pdf.
Advisory Committee on Interdisciplinary, Community-Based Linkages (2005). Fifth Annual Report to the US Department and Human Services and to Congress. Washington, DC: Health Resources Services Administration of Health.
Graybeal, C., Long., R., Scalise-Smith, D., & Zeibig, E. (2011). The art and science of interprofessional education. Journal of Allied Health, 39, 3, 232-237.
Health Resources and Services Administration (2010). History of the health professions. Washington, DC: HRSA. Retrieved October 15, 2011 from http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/about/history/htm.
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010). Focus on health reform. Summary of new health reform law. No. Publication #8061. Menlo Park, CA: Author. Retrieved March 16, 2011 from http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/8061.pdf.
Steinbrook, R. (2009). Health care and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. New England Journal of Medicine, 360, 1057-1060.
Ten Cate, O. & Schelle, F. (2007). Competency-based postgraduate training: Can we bridge the gap between theory and practice? Academic Medicine, 82, 542-547.
Walsh, C. l., Gordon, F., Marshall, M., Wilson, F., & Hunt, T. (2005). Interprofessional capability: A developing framework for interprofessional education. Nurse Education in Practice, 5, 230-237.
Wilson, S., Rozensky, R., & Weiss, J. (2010). The Advisory Committee on Interdisciplinary Community-based linkages and the federal role in advocating for interprofessional education. Journal of Allied Health, 39 (3), 210-215.
World Health Organization. (2010). Framework for action on interprofessional education & collaborative practice. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved April 11, 2011 from http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2010/WHO_HRN_HPN_10.3_eng.pdf.
Jennifer Anderson, MSW, LCSW, MAC, is the Director of Field Education for Indiana University Northwest, a system school of Indiana University School of Social Work. Ms. Anderson oversees the field education program for the undergraduate and graduate social work programs and teaches in the health concentration of the MSW program. In these capacities, she develops and facilitates numerous interprofessional education (IPE) programs. She earned her MSW from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.