Developing interprofessional education in an AHEC region that is distant from the "Medical School Mother Ship"

  • By: Marty Schaller, MS, executive director for Northeastern Wisconsin AHEC

Northeastern Wisconsin AHEC’s (NEWAHEC) geographic region poses a challenge faced by many AHECs trying to implement interprofessional student education (IPE). Its region is located distant from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH), the medical school that supports its AHEC program.

For many years NEWAHEC struggled with implementing IPE programs for students in its region. NEWAHEC convened a summit in early 2010 that was attended by its regional academic partners. The purpose was to discuss the current state of IPE in the region and gauge interest in developing more IPE programming. NEWAHEC partners from nine academic institutions located in NEWAHEC’s region attended (two 4-year state schools, three 4-year private schools, and four technical schools). All offer more than one health professions discipline. Most attendees were deans. Also in attendance were staff from NEWAHEC and the WI AHEC program, and a representative from ThedaCare, a regional health care provider who has developed a nationally recognized collaborative care model.

The outcomes of the summit were:

  • a recognition that very little IPE was occurring in the region
  • a consensus among attendees acknowledging the value and importance of developing and implementing more IPE opportunities
  • a commitment to move forward with an IPE strategic planning process for the region

NEWAHEC facilitated the planning process with its partners. The group articulated a vision for IPE in the region: Every health professions student has the opportunity to participate in an interprofessional education experience, so that students understand and respect the roles of other health professionals. The group identified a total of 30 “gaps” between their future vision and the current state of IPE in the region. Some of the key gaps are listed below:

Gaps were organized into three categories: Data/Information; Organizational/Institutional; Perception. From these gaps, three strategic priorities were developed: 1) Increase the perceived value of interprofessional education among key stakeholders. 2) Create and implement an inter/intra institutional program of interprofessional education that is efficient, effective, sustainable, incorporates best practices and addresses stakeholder barriers/concerns. 3) Develop a plan for measuring outcomes that addresses the needs and expectations of all key stakeholders.

Key actions that occurred after the planning process included:

  • The group developed a survey tool for regional faculty members to measure attitudes toward IPE and teamwork in the work setting. The survey was administered by one of the IPE work group faculty members and data was collected, analyzed, and disseminated.
  • A communications plan regarding key messages regarding IPE was drafted in an effort to communicate key IPE concepts to college administration and other stakeholders.
  • NEWAHEC developed and delivered two “IPE101” workshops to educate faculty of health professions training programs in the fall of 2011.
  • NEWAHEC developed and piloted a one-day, student IPE workshop that was delivered during the J-term in January, 2012.

NEWAHEC then expanded its capacity to provide additional support for IPE through the following strategic actions:

  • Hired additional AHEC program staffing, which allowed the existing program staff member to concentrate more time to IPE
  • Funded attendance of NEWAHEC board and staff members to attend the Collaborating Across Borders III and IV IPE conferences (four attendees at each conference).

As a direct result of NEWAHEC’s investment in IPE capacity building, the following outcomes have been achieved:

  • Collaboration between two schools for IPE education for both schools’ students
  • New IPE curriculum implemented at one school for IPE education for nursing and social work students.
  • NEWAHEC developed and is coordinating a statewide IPE student collaborative case competition. Ten IP student teams from throughout the state will compete for cash prizes. NEWAHEC’s region had eight team applications; the region with the next highest number of applications was two.
  • Continued growth in the J-term IPE student workshop. Student participation is increasing from 18 students to 36.
  • One partner school with ten health professions training programs has embraced and is institutionalizing IPE. NEWAHEC has supported this organization by providing an IPE faculty workshop and faculty support for attending the CAB IV conference.

Due to logistics, institutional politics, and a relatively small amount of medical student training that occurs in the region, all of the IPE activities to date have not included medical students. This is gradually changing, however. In 2011 the UWSMPH implemented a training site within NEWAHEC’s region for its Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine (WARM) program. WARM students receive most of their third and fourth year training in rural communities. This new WARM site is providing increased access to medical students for regional IPE activities. NEWAHEC’s IPE activities are also getting noticed at “the mother ship.” We will likely have medical student participation in our J-term workshop this year. NEWAHEC’s IPE coordinator will be making a presentation with AHEC program staff at UWSMPH regarding our regional IPE activities.

Lessons Learned

  1. Commitment and Collaboration are Crucial Engaging key leaders in our academic partners at the beginning of the process was crucial to gauge interest and buy-in in IPE. Once we were assured that academic partners were committed to developing more IPE opportunities, collaboration naturally followed.
  2. You can do IPE Without Medical Students Out of necessity, we developed our IPE programming without medical students – though engagement of medical students was always a goal.
  3. Persistence Pays Off Being located distant from the medical school presents numerous challenges to engaging medical students into IPE programming. Through demonstrated successes with other disciplines, we have been slowly able to engage medical students.
  4. AHEC is the Glue AHECs have a long history of successfully convening multiple partners to develop and deliver quality health professions student education. This project is no different. Partners were engaged and motivated to participate, but lacked the resources and political neutrality that AHEC was able to provide.