Go team!

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Although physiotherapy student Andrea Ruby goes to school in a building with occupational therapy and speech-language pathology students, “I didn’t actually know what those other two professions did,” she recalls.

After participating in an interprofessional education pilot project in Toronto Rehab’s geriatric day hospital last spring-along with students studying occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, nursing, pharmacy and social work-all that changed. “Now if one of my patients has a problem, I know exactly who to go to and what each team member can address,” says Andrea. “This has been a huge learning experience for me.”

That’s the kind of response Lynne Sinclair, Toronto Rehab’s Interprofessional Education Leader, was hoping to get from the first group of students to experience an interprofessional clinical placement in a Toronto teaching hospital. “Interprofessional education is so important because in rehab, that’s the way we work-in interprofessional teams,” Lynne explains. “For our future health care professionals to work effectively in teams for the betterment of the patient, they need to start learning about one another now.”

Medical students also will join the hospital’s interprofessional education program, which will host several teams of University of Toronto students from the various health disciplines for approximately eight weeks each winter and spring.

Toronto Rehab has taken a leadership role in interprofessional education by creating Lynne’s position, which is the first of its kind in a Toronto hospital, and by adopting a mandate to initiate, enhance and support the integration of education and research into clinical practice. The success of the hospital’s pilot project has encouraged other teaching hospitals to begin similar programs.

The results of the pilot “definitely exceeded our expectations,” says Lynne, who led the development of this innovative educational model that incorporates a variety of education strategies including case-based problem solving, small group learning and tutorials facilitated by clinical team members.

Development of the pilot took several months of intense planning, literature reviews and a thorough examination of each of the U of T health care educational programs to identify common content and timing in the curriculums.

Lynne used multiple evaluation strategies including an evaluation tool before and after the pilot that showed “very positive feedback from the students and a large shift in their perceptions of interprofessionalism. Outcomes indicated a marked increase in the ability of the professions to work together and greater respect for the work done by other professions.”

The geriatric day hospital’s clinical team enthusiastically endorsed the pilot and is committed to continued involvement in the program. The team was selected to host the pilot “because they are a strong, motivated and knowledgeable interprofessional group with a supportive manager and a medical director who believes in interprofessional education,” says Karima Velji, Toronto Rehab’s Vice President, Professional Practice and Chief Nursing Officer. This positive experience has led other Toronto Rehab groups to express interest in hosting interprofessional teams of students.

For the students, learning about other health care disciplines and their scopes of practice means providing better patient care and being ready to work in a team of health professionals when they graduate.

The idea of providing “unified care for the patient,” and developing a deeper understanding of team functioning and problem solving was what appealed to Melissa D’Amelio, who graduated in speech-language pathology and began working in September. “In our team placement, I tried to absorb everything around me so that I could transfer these skills to my new career.”

“Team functioning and communication are so important,” agrees Joanna Ciardullo, an occupational therapy student. “The future of health care is all about working in teams, and the day hospital staff at Toronto Rehab has it down. I’ve learned about team functioning from them.”

Pharmacy student Andrea Jew discovered that “teamwork is hard but very rewarding. Learning about other disciplines and how our professions work together helped me see more potential in my own profession.”

Working with an interprofessional team allowed social work student Sandra Bertok to take a broader view of patient care. “In the tutorials when we talk about a particular patient, getting a holistic view of the person was really what we wanted to achieve. I’ve never had that perspective before because I’ve been so focused on what I, as a social worker, would do with the patient.”

“Working in a team really gives me confidence that the patient is getting the help they need,” adds Andrea Ruby, the group’s physiotherapy student. “It makes me feel good to know there are so many people looking after each patient’s care, and that the team approach really works.”

For Sarah Connelly, the group’s nursing student who has now graduated and accepted a nursing position at Toronto Rehab, last spring’s interactions with other future health care professionals provided “some of my best learning experiences. You can read it in a text book but it’s not the same as when we talk and learn from one another.”

“I learned a lot from you guys,” she says to her former student colleagues. “And I’ll remember it.”