It’s a part of all successful organizations. But nowhere is this combined effort more essential than in the medical field, where health-care professionals working as a team -- instead of in side-by-side silos -– open lines of communication and, as a result, improve patient care.
Throughout the University of Pennsylvania Health System, interdisciplinary teams are the norm. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and other allied health professionals all take part in daily rounds. The approach has not only improved coordination of care and patient outcomes but also fostered better interpersonal relationships on the units.
Leaders in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine took notice of this strategy. Interdisciplinary groups have clearly demonstrated immense benefits so why not begin the process at an earlier stage? After a year of planning – this past January -- ITAP was launched.
The Interprofessional Team Assessment Program introduces a fourth-year student from Penn’s School of Nursing and a third- or fourth-year student from University of the Sciences’ Philadelphia College of Pharmacy into an already formed group of six or seven first-year med students. (The team concept itself is not new to the School of Medicine. Its students work in teams from day one.) ITAP’s overreaching goal, according to Stanley Goldfarb, MD, associate dean for Curriculum, is to “instill in students the importance of interdisciplinary team work. If they have these experiences early in their training, they’ll have different attitudes towards their colleagues when they’re in practice.”
During the course of a semester, students in each group observed an assigned clinical team in action. They interviewed team members and critiqued what they saw. They also rated the team in terms of collaboration, communications, the role of each member, and responded to statements, such as “I’d like to be a member of the clinical team we observed.” At the end of the semester, each team shared its assessments with other students as well as the clinical teams they shadowed.
Based on comments, ITAP received a thumbs-up from students, who gained an appreciation for each other’s roles and responsibilities as well as an understanding of how teams function in a health-care system. Feedback included:
“I loved working with pharmacy and nursing students because it’s a real-world application,” said one medical student.
“We don’t have a lot of time to communicate with med students in our clinical experiences, and pharmacy students aren’t generally included,” said a nursing student. “So it was great getting their perspective on things.” Noting their different levels of clinical experience, she said, “As a team, we helped each other out, some of us explaining things that others weren’t as familiar with.”
“This was a great opportunity to hear everyone’s input on the team,” noted a pharmacy student. “I learned a lot about group dynamics.”
ITAP proved successful for the observed clinical teams as well. Said one nurse practitioner, “The ITAP team has inspired our team to improve our processes. We are utilizing their observations and recommendations as we modify our workflows.”
While the newly created program still needs some fine tuning, its initial success will keep it as part of next spring’s curriculum.
Cathy Poon, PharmD, vice dean of Pharmacy Practice and Pharmacy Administration at University of the Sciences, is thrilled. “Team work needs to start really early. If you’re comfortable with each other, you can learn from one another,” she said. “We need to share our strengths for the one common goal: the patients.”