How do we teach future health professionals to work together?

In nursing school, you learn about anatomy, epidemiology, ethics. Those topics are covered in medical and dental school, too. But what about working as a team with other medical professionals? When–and more importantly—how is that taught?

Now, an educational collaborative has determined core competencies for InterProfessional Collaboration—that is to say, teamwork with other health professionals—to guide curricula in nursing schools, dental schools, pharmacy schools and more.

Six organizations saw an educational need and came together to provide individuals with a shared vision of interprofessional collaborative practice as key to the safe, high quality, accessible, patient-centered care desired by all.

Achieving that vision requires the continuous development of interprofessional competencies by health professions students as part of the learning process, so that they enter the workforce ready to use effective teamwork and team-based care.

Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice is a report resulting from the collective efforts of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, an organization made up of the American Association of Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, the Association of Schools of Public Health, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the American Dental Education Association, and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Why do we need core competencies for teamwork among health professionals?

Although these six groups deal with different aspects of health, together they offer eight key reasons that it is important to agree on a core set of interprofessional collaboration competencies for use across professions. Core competencies are needed in order to:

1) create a coordinated effort across the health professions to embed essential content in all health professions’ education curricula,

2) guide professional and institutional curricular development of learning approaches and assessment strategies to achieve productive outcomes,

3) provide the foundation for a learning continuum in interprofessional competency development across the professions and the lifelong learning trajectory,

4) acknowledge that evaluation and research work will strengthen the scholarship in this area,

5) prompt dialogue to evaluate the “fit” between educationally identified core competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice and practice needs/ demands,

6) find opportunities to integrate essential interprofessional education content consistent with current accreditation expectations for each health professions education program

7) offer information to accreditors of educational programs across the health professions that they can use to set common accreditation standards for interprofessional education, and to know where to look in institutional settings for examples of implementation of those standards, and

8) inform professional licensing and credentialing bodies in defining potential testing content for interprofessional collaborative practice.

What’s the relationship between interprofessional education and interprofessional practice?

As background, it was only recently that three frameworks were developed that capture the interdependence of interprofessional education as fundamental to practice improvement. These are illustrated below.

IPCP framework 1

Hint: read the image above from left to right

IPCP framework 2

Hint: click on the image above to view a larger version

IPCP framework 3

Four main competency domains

The bulk of the report covers introduction and discussion of the four competency domains and the specific competencies within each. These four competency domains are:

IPCP competencies

These competencies can be used as the focus to formulate learning objectives and educational activities at the pre-licensure/pre-certifying level.

It is important to distinguish interprofessional competencies, and this is done by linking to the five Institute of Medicine (IOM) core competencies for all health professionals.

Limitations of the report

The conclusion discusses some of the key challenges to interprofessional competency development and acknowledges several limitations to the scope of the report, though it is unrealistic to believe that all limitations can be addressed. These limitations include:

1) “parceling out” and reinforcing conventional boundaries of practice across the professions with potentially negative impact on the efforts to encourage more collaboration in practice

2) unwieldy educational and evaluation processes brought about by too much specificity in professional competency expectations by multiple evaluators/regulators

3) a reductionism that works against complex thinking needed for holistic responses to specific practice situations

4) “freezing” competency expectations at a particular point in time, i.e., competency rather than capability, the latter increasing in complexity and sophistication over a lifetime professional learning trajectory in different clinical contexts

5) lack of flexibility in practice contexts where overlapping practice boundaries and innovation can be responsive to shifting patient and population health needs

6) difficulties with assessment of competencies

This report was created with the hope that greater knowledge and awareness will aid in the efficiency of health care professionals, allowing them to see the value of these competencies and adopt the recommendations in their own work. It is engaging other stakeholders that will add broader scope and momentum to help transform the interprofessional education of health professionals for the future.

Daniel L Scott Headshot 2014Danielle Scott started working with IRETA as an Educational Technology Consultant in April of 2014. In November 2014, she joined the team full-time as a Training and Education Associate. Danielle is responsible for the conversion of traditional training content into online courses in the Moodle Learning Management system and other educational projects. She holds a BS in Liberal Studies from Clarion University and an MA in Education, Curriculum and Instruction from Point Park University.