There may be a few “I”s in interprofessional education (IPE), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a team sport.

A viewpoint published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education says there is more work to be done to incorporate IPE into health care education.

Viewpoint authors Tina Brock, EdD, BSPharm; Jill Boone, PharmD; and Claire Anderson, PhD, BPharmc, argued that there are many aspects dividing health care professions. For instance, there are differences in practice sites, degree programs, and disciplines. These silos may seem natural, and education systems may unintentionally reinforce them, but they must be broken, the authors argued.

They pointed out that pharmacy school curricula is already quite full, and students will notice if attempts at incorporating IPE are crammed in as an afterthought.

“[O]ur learners are savvy enough to see that when IPE activities are inserted into nooks and crannies, they don’t translate as ‘real’ curriculum,” they wrote. “To make interprofessional instruction convincing will mean profound changes in the classroom and clinical and organizational arenas.”

Here are 4 ways to improve IPE in health care.

1. Make room for IPE.

The study authors suggested this could mean “sacrificing some good things for the chance to build some great things.” This includes building a foundation, or a skeleton, for IPE first. IPE should shift from an afterthought to one of the school’s primary objectives.

The data on how IPE affects patient outcomes is still unclear, but the authors said health care educators have an “ethical responsibility” to build better relationships.

“It’s time to play smarter,” they wrote.

2. Look for creative ways to surmount obstacles like logistics, funding, cultures, and reluctance.

These barriers exist for not only IPE, but also many great changes. A creative team of educational leaders will need to work together to find ways around these obstacles.

If one of the problems is physical distance between health profession students, US educators can learn from innovative programs abroad, as the study authors commended programs in Lebanon, Namibia, and the Philippines for their “bold” approaches to IPE.

“In some cases, these activities have become so interwoven in the pharmacy curricula, they no longer have to be labeled as separate curricular entities,” they wrote. “There is much we can learn from these collaborations.”

For example, the International Pharmaceutical Federation’s Interprofessional Education in a Pharmacy Context report lauded a program in Namibia where P4 pharmacy students and P3 medical students completed a tuberculosis clinical rotation together. A student from each health profession was paired up and spoke with patients at a tuberculosis hospital together about each patient’s needs and drug-related problems.

3. Recruit or develop a different kind of pharmacy student and professor.

Both pharmacy students and instructors will have to adapt to a stronger focus on team-based care.

The study authors did some research on pharmacy schools that assessed students on IPE and found that some schools did have “teamwork assessments,” but none had public reports of admissions that included an IPE assessment.

“Students who come into pharmacy based on their individual performance must be intentionally taught to value team performance,” they wrote. “And this team training must spiral through the curriculum to include classroom, experiential, and co-curricular activities.”

Teachers may be both the problem and the solution, the authors continued. Some ways to help instructors encourage IPE include endowed chairs, seed grants for IPE, and formal IPE teaching programs.

In addition, educators could offer an IPE course as extra credit, which could motivate students. To encourage educators, IPE could be considered in the promotion or tenure process. 

4. Scrap single-profession gatherings.

One final suggestion from the study authors was to rethink organizations and gatherings that are based solely on 1 profession in the educator, practitioner, and student arenas. They noted that meetings like Collaborating Across Borders and All Together Better Health are improvements, but there’s more work to be done to ensure that the health care professions value each other’s contributions.

“Even more ironic than a lecture on active learning is a pharmacist telling other pharmacists how much other team members value their contributions,” the study authors pointed out.