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Students in professional schools learn to collaborate

Working together

(January 27, 2000, Gazette)

One of the teams that worked on an interdisciplinary project last semester (L-R): Karen Antle, Centre for Nursing Studies; Wanda Harvey, Pharmacy; Jill Hart, Nursing; Melissa Andrews, Centre for Nursing Studies; Jennifer Lahey, Nursing; Trina Acreman, Nursing; Stephanie Mealey, Social Work; Jake Khoubian, Medicine; and (sitting) tutor Marge Hackett, Nursing.

Photo Submitted

By Sharon Gray

Interdisciplinary teamwork is a key concept in today’s healthcare system, and now students in four of Memorial’s professional schools are gaining early experience working together.

First-year students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and social work took part in a pilot interdisciplinary project last semester. Each group was assigned to work on a case representing an issue in the area of health promotion, such as steroid use, smoking or pregnancy.

All groups were assigned a faculty tutor, a volunteer faculty member from one of the four disciplines, who facilitated two group meetings and was available for consultation by the group.

Because of the different timetables of students in each program, most of the work had to be done during evenings or weekends, but that didn’t deter students from giving their full effort. Results were demonstrated in a variety of ways such as videos, brochures and role playing as well as oral and written presentations.

Students were encouraged to access local subject experts, community resources and electronic databases. The project was completed by the submission of reports from each individual and an oral presentation by the group in a plenary session.

“Students had to demonstrate that they had acquired the perspectives of the other health care disciplines, display appropriate group working skills, and use appropriate evidence-based professional practice skills in collecting and analyzing data,” said Dr. Thomas Scott, Medicine.

Nursing students from the St. John’s campus and the Centre for Nursing Studies participated directly in the project, and nursing students at Western Memorial in Corner Brook had a more limited participation via e-mail. Nursing students made up the largest number of students working on this course and were also generally the youngest, since students can be admitted to nursing directly from high school whereas medical students must already have a degree.

Professor Marge Hackett, Nursing, said some of the nursing students felt they were at a bit of a disadvantage because of the difference in age and experience from students in the other disciplines. In Social Work and Pharmacy, students have at least two years experience on campus before entering their professional schools.

She also noted that working in an interdisciplinary team took place at the same time as their introduction to their own profession.

“I feel positive that it is necessary to demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary work, but I’m not sure the first semester is the best time to do this.”

Dr. Janet Fitzpatrick, Social Work, agreed that students in their first semester of professional training don’t really know their own discipline yet. Despite this, she noted that in their evaluations many social work students commented that the experience last semester allowed them to see how other professionals think and approach issues, and see issues beyond the medical ones. She also pointed out that besides last semester’s project, many social work courses include content on interdisciplinarity and collaborative practice.

The instructor who worked directly with the social work students, Dr. Mike Ungar, said he felt it was important to discuss issues raised in the project with the students during class time. He said overall the social work students were positive about the project, though some felt it would be better to do it in their second semester.

Dr. Linda Hensman, Pharmacy, said the interdisciplinary project was a really good idea, although something of a logistical problem.

“Students were evaluated differently, and there were differences in tutors’ expectations. But from the perspective of the students, we received a very positive feedback on the interaction with fellow students in different disciplines.”

Dr. Scott said the interdisciplinary project was based on the philosophy that earlier is better and that the different disciplines should carry out some problem solving together.

“At the very least it meant all these students from the various schools met and talked to each other — in this building (Health Sciences Centre) we have nursing, pharmacy and medical students who have traditionally not known each other well at all.”

This is the first time an interdisciplinary project has counted for credit for students in all four disciplines, although a project on HIV/AIDS has taken place each spring for the past few years involving students from the four schools but counting as credit only in nursing and social work. Based on the evaluations from last semester’s pilot project, the four schools plan on continuing similar interdisciplinary work throughout professional training.