VCU health sciences students participate in inaugural interprofessional seminar

VCU students Chelsea Tolbert, Carol Farn and Kristine Timerson review a case file.
VCU students Chelsea Tolbert, Carol Farn and Kristine Timerson review a case file.

Miscommunication in any professional environment can be detrimental, but in the medical field, it can lead to patient harm. To improve interprofessional collaboration and communication among health profession students, Virginia Commonwealth University created an interprofessional pilot program for the health sciences in fall 2016.

“There was a consistent buzz in the air,” Alan Dow, M.D., said of the pilot program. Dow is assistant vice president of health sciences for interprofessional education and collaborative care at VCU.

“The students really seemed to enjoy working with each other, and we were impressed with how well they did,” he said.

The pilot program became a full seminar in fall 2017, and was added to the curriculum as a required course for dental hygiene, dentistry and nurse practitioner students. The seminar’s purpose is to simulate patient interaction and teach interdisciplinary communication in the health sciences. Nearly 200 students attended the inaugural seminar.

Health sciences interdisciplinary meetings for students are not typical at universities, said Elizabeth Micalizzi, administrative director at VCU’s Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care.

“There is a small but strong national movement of interprofessional seminars focused on collaboration among medical professionals that work in the same hospitals,” Micalizzi said.

Most participants met for the first time during the seminar, which took place over two days in late November and early December in the Clinical Learning Center at the School of Nursing.

Seminar participants talk among themselves before the start of the session.
Seminar participants talk among themselves before the start of the session.

“I have spent so much time focusing on one aspect of the body,” said Tyler Wood, a third-year student at the VCU School of Dentistry. “It is good to hear how the other students fit everything into the picture.”

Teams of three-to-four students first studied a case file to prepare for the work they would engage in later that day. Next, they met with a standardized patient — an actor portraying an illness — to establish a dialogue, collect patient history and practice patient interaction.

The students then analyzed the information they gathered from the standardized patient, comparing notes with the other teams under the guidance of instructors.

“They are comfortable sharing what they know, and they are able to make connections between all aspects of the patients’ care,” said seminar instructor Sharon Lanning, D.D.S. Lanning serves as an associate professor at VCU School of Dentistry and as a member of the IPE leadership team.

Aside from medical issues, the students discussed fiscal challenges for uninsured and underinsured Richmond residents seeking medical care. They compiled a cluster of options for affordable treatment.

“In the real world, you must collaborate with other professionals to provide care to patients,” said Brittany Henderson, an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner student at the School of Nursing.


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