Barbara Jones
Dr. Barbara Jones

A new and innovative course at The University of Texas at Austin is changing the way graduate students in the health-related professions approach healthcare delivery.

The course, which focuses on interprofessional collaboration, was developed by School of Social Work associate professor Dr. Barbara Jones, in conjunction with Dr. John Luk, assistant dean for regional medical education at The University of Texas Medical Branch.

In fall 2012, Jones and Luk offered the first interprofessional education (IPE) elective course for medicine and social work, “Transformative Teams in Healthcare.” Since then, the course has expanded to include nursing, educational psychology and pharmacy students as well. Throughout the semester-long course, students work in teams to improve communication and collaboration across their respective professions with the ultimate goal of delivering safe, optimal, and patient-centered care. Approximately forty students have taken the course so far.

IPE class
Students in the IPE class

“The course was really valuable from the perspective of learning how other professions work and operate, and learning the professional standards of different disciplines within the medical community,” said Eliza Hanson, a second year master’s student in social work who is interested in medical counseling. “To have a new perspective from medical, nursing, pharmacology, and educational psychology students was refreshing. It revitalized me and got me excited in new ways about social work.”

Edgar Halford, a clinical nursing student, was first introduced to collaboration while in the Armed Forces.

“In my military experience, I worked in an interprofessional role, and that’s the reason why I signed up for the class,” said Halford. “The key concept of IPE is to make sure that everyone is doing what’s right for the patient. Ultimately, the course boosted my knowledge and confidence in working with other disciplines.”

Sonia Alvarez, who enrolled in the course as part of her graduate social work degree curriculum, stated that the course was helpful to clarify the responsibility of different disciplines.

“It goes back to boundaries, and how does one clarify their role. I wouldn’t say ‘Oh, I can take the vitals of this client.’ That’s not my role in that team,” said Alvarez. “Part of the challenge is that your profession may be misunderstood. This course gave me the ability to advocate for what I know a social worker should do.”

The semester culminated into a final project where students worked in teams and developed proposals addressing healthcare-related problems in the city of Austin.

Alvarez’s group created an intervention that targeted childhood obesity, with the end goal of presenting their proposal to a local school.

Sonia Alvarez IPE class
Social work student Sonia Alvarez in the IPE class

“We created posters and researched relevant topics. We focused on food, eating habits, physical activity, and issues of self-esteem associated with childhood obesity,” said Alvarez. “Because we had someone from each field, we were able to look at the research from different fields on that specific topic, and then bring it all together.”

Hanson’s team worked with the Safety and Prevention Department at Dell Children’s Medical Center on obtaining the World Health Organization’s “safe communities” designation for the City of Austin.

“Our group created a proposal on what exactly goes into earning that designation,” said Hanson.  “Basically, it’s about bringing together all of the projects and initiatives that are already used in the community to create a safe environment, and bringing them together to track them. It’s really community dependent.”

While enrolled in the IPE course, Hanson interned at the South Austin Emergency Room and worked precisely in the environment that the IPE course seeks to prepare students for.

“In the ER, there’s a lot of consultation going back and forth. Before social workers see a patient, they check in with the nurse,” said Hanson. “When consulting with the different staff members I applied what I learned in my IPE course. It was very beneficial in the here and now, which was great!”

Posted February 12, 2014. By Miguel Gutierrez, Jr. Photo credits: Natalie Krebs and Miguel Gutierrez, Jr.