Superheroes of healthcare unite

Interprofessional education initiative joins three disciplines for better healthcare delivery

Pharmacy, nursing and social work students collaborate on their first interprofessional activity – selecting their superhero team name – during the Interprofessional Education kick-off dinner Monday, Aug. 21. Image Credit: Eli Foote.
Pharmacy, nursing and social work students collaborate on their first interprofessional activity – selecting their superhero team name – during the Interprofessional Education kick-off dinner Monday, Aug. 21.
Pharmacy, nursing and social work students collaborate on their first interprofessional activity – selecting their superhero team name – during the Interprofessional Education kick-off dinner Monday, Aug. 21. Photography: Eli Foote.

The Healers, The Social Health League and 11 other teams – all representing Binghamton University’s own brand of superheroes – came together Monday, Aug. 21, to begin their collaborative fight against poor healthcare. In all, 13 teams of nursing, pharmacy and social work students were launched on their interprofessional education path as the new academic year begins.

A total of 145 students from the three disciplines were assigned to the teams, and met for an orientation and their first interprofessional activity – to choose their superhero team names.

Before students named their teams, Vicky Rizzo, chair and associate professor of social work, introduced the Department of Social Work’s “superheroes” that represent different areas of focus. “Our department develops a new superhero every year – we have Emma Pathy, Ed Thics … ,” she said. “Now we need an interprofessional one.”

The orientation and dinner included an overview of what interprofessional education is and how it will prepare students to improve healthcare delivery by working across the multiple professions that deliver care. “The healthcare industry is changing dramatically,” said Provost Donald Nieman. “This allows us to prepare for the future of the healthcare professions as our students will play ever-increasing roles. They need the ability and opportunity to learn to work together as part of a team where each brings their experiences to the table and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The interprofessional collaboration and curriculum development has been spearheaded by Gail Rattinger, associate dean for academic affairs and assessment for the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS); Rizzo; and Nicole Rouhana, research associate professor and director of graduate programs for the Decker School of Nursing. The trio, with assistance from Judith Quaranta, assistant professor of nursing, and others, worked for more than a year to put the orientation and curriculum together, Nieman said.

Noting the excitement in the room, Gloria Meredith, founding dean of the SOPPS, told the students they will be learning about each other’s professions as they move through their courses as teams. “This interprofessional focus started about 10 years ago to help keep costs down and improve healthcare,” she said. “Teams are the answer for improving healthcare for patients and families, and for your careers.”

Laura Bronstein, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs, agreed. As one who has centered her scholarship as a social worker on interdisciplinary practice, she’s fully behind interprofessional initiatives. “It really does make a difference and will prepare you for your careers and to leapfrog over others because you have this training.”

Mario Ortiz, dean of the Decker School of Nursing, reiterated the value of working in teams. “You’ll have many people to work with, and you’ll be working with the same groups over the next semesters and years,” he said. “That’s what healthcare is all about – working with teams for a long period of time.”

Rouhana, who led a cheer for each discipline, said the planets had aligned for this inaugural class of interprofessional education – given the solar eclipse earlier in the day – and the time is right.

“Why now?” she asked. “Because, if you really look at this, healthcare is important in terms of quality and satisfaction and there are a lot of things we need to look at: patient outcomes, fewer medical errors, more affordable healthcare, higher quality of care. Patients are our clients and consumers who want to go to someone who will meet their needs as best they can.”

Interprofessional education is also a requirement of the students’ educational program now, Rouhana added. “We’re going to use team-based principles as we look at our own ethics and beliefs and how they impact healthcare. We’ll look at other people’s roles and your preconceived notions. We want you to graduate as competent as you can be.”

As Rouhana reviewed the core competencies students would be focusing on, she stressed the need to avoid poor communication. “The number one complaint in hospitals is that people aren’t communicating, and we want to know we are communicating. We don’t want medication or other errors and communication will really address that,” she said. “Safety needs to move to the top of our list. We want to make your jobs better as professionals when you graduate and eliminate system inefficiencies.”

The teams’ interprofessional education will center on four content areas: health and behavioral healthcare delivery, interprofessional communication, ethics, and patient simulation where the teams will share patient responsibilities across their disciplines.

The changing face of healthcare delivery cannot be addressed by one profession, Rouhana added, reinforcing the benefits of interprofessional collaboration. “We all view the patient as a unique individual, not just in nursing, pharmacy and social work, but in other professions that will also deliver care. Our professions are always changing and we need to stay on the cutting edge.”

Health and behavioral health benefit from an interprofessional emphasis, Rizzo said. She spoke of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which works to improve health and healthcare worldwide, but noted that job satisfaction for healthcare professionals must play a key role in improving healthcare. “Our goal is to prepare students for deliberately working together with the common goal of patient-centered care. By doing so, we’re all better off.”

Rizzo said accrediting bodies for their disciplines also require students to master being able to work in interprofessional teams, so one profession cannot do this alone. “We need to tackle this together and your credentials will clearly focus on interprofessional education.”

So, what is the focus for Binghamton in this initial launch?

In the first year, students will study health and behavioral healthcare delivery in the fall, said Rattinger. “Your assignment will be learning about insurance and picking out the right healthcare plan for the assigned patient. In the spring, students will study interprofessional communication as well as patient simulations, for which we’re still developing curriculum.”

Students will begin working in their interprofessional teams on their insurance plan assignment their first week of classes, Rattinger added. “For example, the team’s assignment might be to find what the best insurance plan is for a 40-year-old man at poverty level, looking at it from each discipline’s perspective and coming up with a recommendation.”

In the spring semester, students will participate in a course on how to interact interprofessionally, and what happens when they don’t, Rattinger said. “We want you to become professionals who work well together in teams for the best interests of the patients. We’re starting this early in the curriculum so you can be elite, well-trained teams.”