Second Interprofessional Education Day Spotlights Health Disparities

JANUARY 30, 2015—Georgetown University Medical Center convened students from across the health care disciplines for the second annual day devoted to fostering interprofessional education and team-building.

Nearly 350 students, including third-year medical students from Georgetown’s School of Medicine, nursing and health care administration students from the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) and pharmacy students from Howard University, attended the daylong interdisciplinary event held Jan. 23. The event was highly interactive, with ample opportunity for small-group brainstorming and conversation across the professional disciplines.

Support for the event was provided by a gift from Thomas R. McGee, Jr. (C’81) and his wife Jill McGee, through a fund to promote student engagement in health disparities and community-based work. The McGees are parents of a current nursing student at NHS. 

The agenda was built around health disparities themes, including case studies on diabetes and asthma—two conditions that represent what such disparities can lead to.

Shyrl Sistrunk, MD, associate professor of medicine and senior associate dean for curriculum and assessment, co-led the event with Bernard Horak, PhD, FACHE, CPHQ, professor and director of the health systems administration master's program at NHS.

Care for the Underserved

The organizers say it is essential for students to develop new ways to communicate with their colleagues from other professions early on so that it becomes part of their routines. Learning effective communication and teamwork helps contribute to a culture of safety once they are working in their fields, and will have an impact on underserved populations as well.

“There are a lot of people talking about this from a patient safety perspective, but it also ties into health disparities, which is synonymous with patient safety,” Sistrunk says. “We have so many people in disparate parts of the country—and certainly in this city—who have major difficulties accessing the health care system. We have to develop better ways to take care of them.”

Horak noted that it is vital for health professionals who will need to work together in complex systems to learn together now.

“Critical to health system effectiveness is the ability of these professionals to plan and coordinate care, particularly for patients who are most vunerable,” he says.

Deconstructing Biases

Students framed the day by discussing common perceptions and biases about their perceptions; for example, doctors are seen as “detached,” nurses are “compassionate but not evidence-based,” administrators are “solely focused on finances,” pharmacists are “pill counters.”

By airing and discussing these biases, the students worked to open communication channels and debunk misconceptions.

“Unfortunately, sometimes creating a culture of open appropriate exchange is challenging due to many factors: time, multi-layered responsibilities and more. However, conferences such as IPE help to shift the culture of health care in the right direction,” says Olayemi Okunseinde (M’16), one of the third-year medical students in attendance. 

“We must focus on the patients and their needs as has ever been the case. But if we are to move modern health care forward, the collaboration between pharmacist, nurse, administrator, physician and so many more must be formally linked, recognized and nurtured.”

Julia McSorley (G’16), a candidate in the master’s program in health systems administration, echoes that the IPE event provides future health care leaders a great chance to bridge professional divides.

“By taking the time to better understand the other fields in health care, the event shined light on how we are all working towards a common goal, and that is safe and quality patient care,” McSorley says. “I believe keeping this in mind will help build teamwork and collaboration in the health care industry.”

Sistrunk notes the event was enhanced this year by the participation of Howard University pharmacy students.

“Interprofessional education is not something we can do alone. No one school or program has everything—if we allow for more collaboration it can only broaden the perceptions of our learners in all our venues,” she says.

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications