Interprofessional healthcare education boosts early career skills

Health professional students who attended a five-week interprofessional education programme in Tairāwhiti run by the University of Otago several times each year developed better teamwork skills and more positive attitudes to working collaboratively with others, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington, examined the long-term impact on health professional students of attending the University’s programme in Tairāwhiti where they worked in clinical placements in interdisciplinary teams, completed collaborative tasks and lived together in shared accommodation.

The students involved in the research were in their final year of study in dentistry, dietetics, medicine, oral health, pharmacy and physiotherapy at the University of Otago; nursing at the Eastern Institute of Technology; and occupational therapy at Otago Polytechnic when they attended the programme in Tairāwhiti.

The researchers assessed the impact of the training on 115 students who attended the course and compared their responses with 372 students who had not, through surveys before the programme, at the end of their final year of training and in the first three years of professional practice.

They found their improved teamwork skills and attitudes to working collaboratively were maintained over the three years after they had started work.

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Associate Professor Ben Darlow

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Ben Darlow, says interprofessional education, where students from two or more disciplines learn with, from and about each other, is integral to creating a collaborative practice-ready health workforce.

The Tairāwhiti programme caters for up to 75 final year pre-registration students each year. They learn about interprofessional collaborative practice, hauora Māori, rural health and long-term condition management and go on supervised clinical placements in their own disciplines and in interdisciplinary teams and also complete collaborative tasks. The University of Otago set up a second interprofessional training programme for students in Te Tai Poutini last year, which is based on the same principles, but with context and expectations unique to its location on the West Coast of the South Island.

Associate Professor Darlow says the most common benefits mentioned by participants were the support and learning they received from other health practitioners and their belief that working as part of an interdisciplinary team was enabling better patient care, experiences and outcomes.

One physiotherapy student commented, “I really enjoy having others to explore reasons behind patients’ challenges and come up with creative solutions to manage these that I may not have come up with on my own. The interdisciplinary team is a great source of support when working with difficult cases.”

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Associate Professor Eileen McKinlay

The Director of the University’s Centre for Interprofessional Education, Associate Professor Eileen McKinlay, says students on the course became more positive about teamwork and their teamwork skills over the course of their final year of pre-registration training than students who did not attend the interprofessional programme.

“Participants’ attitudes to healthcare teams remained higher during their first three years of clinical practice than those of their peers who did not attend the programme. Despite representing just five weeks of the three to six years of each students’ training, the programme had a meaningful impact on students’ attitudes that was sustained long term.”

The students were assessed on six core competencies: communication; role clarification and appreciation; reflective practice; leadership and followership; shared decision-making; and teamwork. They are required to successfully complete all aspects of the programme in order to graduate.

The research is understood to be the first to explore the impact of pre-registration interprofessional education on early career health professionals’ attitudes and skills using a quasi-experimental design. It also has the longest follow up, covering the first three years of professional practice as well as the final year of pre-registration training. Unlike most other studies which focused on only one or two disciplines, the Otago study included students from a wide range of disciplines which work together in supporting people’s health.

Associate Professor McKinlay says health professional training programmes around the world are being urged to provide interprofessional education but until now there has been little evidence to show any long-term benefits of the training in terms of learners’ attitudes, skills or clinical practice.

“Our research shows the short-term changes in interprofessional competence which have been observed in other studies are maintained over time.”

Publication:

The research paper ‘Longitudinal impact of preregistration interprofessional education on the attitudes and skills of health professionals during their early careers: a non-randomised trial with 4-year outcomes‘ is published in the BMJ Open.

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