Why Interprofessional Education is Like a Powder Day

Written by Thomas Jorno

Before I compare health care hot topics to snowboarding, let me define each element.

Interprofessional or interdisciplinary care refers to a collaboration among health care providers while treating an individual patient. One way to do this is to have all professionals interview and evaluate the patient at the same time. Interprofessional education means that the students of these professions work together while they are eager, budding professionals.

A powder day on the mountain is the day after a night of gentle, steady, heavy snowfall. Especially in dry climates, the fresh snow is quite “powdery” like foam. To snowboarders, playing in the fresh snow is as delightful as a riveting game of fetch is for a chocolate lab. On these days, falling doesn’t hurt, because the landing is quite soft. There is a fresh slate and one can be the first to carve tracks in the snow. And it is just plain fun.

The traditional model for medical care is individual. For example, someone sees their primary care provider one day (such as a physician, nurse practitioner, PA), exercises with their physical therapist to help with back pain another day, consults with their nutritionist, and maintains cleanings with the dental hygienist. This is a more siloed, individual approach.

With interdisciplinary care, a nurse practitioner, physical therapist, nutritionist, and dental hygienist could all hear the patient’s story at the same time, evaluating the patient as a group. Then the health care providers can share their findings, explain their priorities, and come up with a plan to treat the patient.

Now, interprofessional education can be similar to a powder day for three reasons: it’s a safe place to learn, it is full of opportunities, and it is just plain fun. As a physical therapy student, I have participated in two interprofessional activities, and they were positive places to learn.

Just like a novice snowboarder trying to get on the notorious ski lift, working with other disciplines can feel choppy and awkward. But if the environment of the educational experience is structured correctly, it can be an inviting learning environment. In my recent interprofessional experience, each member of the team introduced the priorities and skills from their profession. I learned the values, goals, and skills of different professions. There were times when I didn’t understand the jargon of another discipline, and by simply asking, my understanding expanded. Sometimes asking questions can be intimidating, like trying to carve down a steep hill. Like a new snowboarder who can’t be afraid of a few faceplants, interprofessional education must include an atmosphere that is open for questions and discussion.

Being the first person to walk, ski, or drive through fresh snow a gentle thrill. It is fresh, like a new frontier. So much potential awaits. The same is true for interprofessional education. Implementing this valuable experience into medical schools is a new frontier. An EMT doctor of over 40 years explained to us at the interprofessional meeting, “watching how you organically work together is helping us learn how to teach interprofessional education.”

Finally, interprofessional education and snowboarding can both be delightful activities if taken with the right attitude. Working with other people and learning about our sister professions is fun, because we can learn how others care for patients. Just as snowboarding is hard to learn at first, interprofessional care motivates me to rise to the challenge. It encourages teamwork and can benefit the patient.

Interprofessional care deserves to be explored in 21st century healthcare just like a fresh mountain of snow beckons for adventure. Just like a snowboarder carves tracks in the fresh powdery snow, the medical students of today are cutting a trail to encourage interprofessional care.  

by Hannah Mullaney, SPT

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