By Megan McClelland
Have you ever heard the saying, “teamwork makes the dream work”? During my interprofessional education (IPE) training I experienced this first-hand. As I worked alongside students of other healthcare professions, my eyes opened to the importance of collaboration between nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and dietitians. It was a wonderful opportunity for each student to share their specialized knowledge.
What exactly is IPE?
Interprofessional education, or IPE, is when students from different health and social professions work together as a part of their professional training. The goal of this method of learning is to develop collaborative practice so that students provide the best patient-centered care.
So, how does this group learning work? For my IPE, I first had to attend a training session. Nursing, pharmacy, social work, and nutrition students all gathered for a day to learn just how this process works. The training started with each student pairing up with another of a different discipline. I paired up with a second-year nursing student. We asked each other a series of questions to learn about our educational background. I learned that her program was 3 years long and required both classwork and intense hands-on practice. Next, the entire group came together and shared what each pair had learned about nursing, nutrition, pharmacy, or social work. I thought I knew a decent amount about each profession, but as I listened I was surprised how much I still had to learn! It was fascinating to hear about the academic requirements and years of training that are required to become a licensed health professional.
What does IPE look like in practice?
IPE showed me the benefit of collaborating with other health professionals. By working together, we were able to provide the best care for patients. My IPE experience occurred once a week for three weeks at health clinics in Germantown and Gathersburg, Maryland. The goal of the clinics were to help each patient better control their diabetes. Because the patient population was mostly spanish speaking, we used a phone interpreter to communicate. This took some getting used to. When using an interpreter, you speak to the patient in English, then the interpreter translates it into Spanish for the patient to understand. The patient responds in Spanish, which the interpreter translates back to you. As you can imagine, this process takes time and patience.
Each week a team consisting of a student from each discipline, nursing, pharmacy, social work, and nutrition, would visit a patient. We each took turns asking the patient questions to learn what brought them there and what we could do to help. The first day I was pretty nervous. I had never worked with students of other health professions before or used a phone interpreter to speak with a patient. So, when I entered the room of our first patient, you can imagine my relief when the patient had a big welcoming smile on his face. My nerves calmed a little.
Our team decided that our nursing student would be the first to speak. Using the interpreter, she welcomed the patient and explained that this appointment would be a bit different than any other. As the patient shared about himself and the difficulties he had with managing his diabetes, I took notes. After the nursing student finished her questions, the pharmacy student asked about the patient’s medication regimen and the social worker gained insight on his home life. This information was extremely helpful as I brainstormed what questions I needed to ask and what nutrition education he would benefit from. Finally, it was my turn to talk about my favorite topic – food! First, I asked the patient what he typically ate. Then, I asked if he had any questions. I learned during IPE training that if you speak in long sentences, the interpreter has difficulty getting every point across to the patient. So, while speaking with the patient, I intentionally spoke in shorter sentences, making sure that the interpreter could translate my words accurately. After learning about the patient’s lifestyle and way of eating, I offered insight on how he could make small changes to better manage his diabetes. He was very thankful for my recommendations and determined to make a change.
The IPE experience showed me the importance of collaborative practice, provided experience communicating with patients of a different language, and gave me confidence in my patient care. I not only gained more insight about the patients, but also was able to use this information to provide more valuable nutrition recommendations tailored to the individual’s lifestyle, culture, and socioeconomic status. Nutrition and health care is not one size fits all. A recommendation for one person may not be useful for another, which is why it is so important to get to know the patient. As I become a registered dietitian, I will remember the importance of working together with other health and social professionals to provide the best individualized care.