Like many things at a large state school, in order to find opportunities, you must seek them yourself.
Like many things at a large state school, in order to find opportunities, you must seek them yourself. Interprofessional education (IPE) at Rutgers University, an example of that, is readily available—you just have to do some hunting. Currently within the curriculum at the pharmacy school, there is no implementation of IPE. Harboring an interest, I have been fortunate enough to engage with a program called InterPEN since the fall of 2015. It is an interdisciplinary program involving medical, nursing, pharmacy, and social work students spanning both the New Brunswick and Newark campuses. As students, we do not focus on medical care, but rather try to fill in the nonmedical gaps in patient care. InterPEN is the Rutgers chapter of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers organization that uses the concept of health care hotspotting, which targets patients who visit emergency departments very frequently. The objective is to lower the burden of health care by forming a yearlong collaborative relationship with these frequent visitors. For the past year, my involvement has taught me lessons that would have been impossible to learn in a traditional classroom setting.
Our 2 patients were classic, overly frequent visitors of the emergency department. They could be said to represent the underserved population of Newark, with low incomes and resources combined with limited insight and health literacy in their multiple comorbid disease states. Although they formed long-term relationships with their health care providers, the patients still faced deteriorating health. Their medical records were often unclear in their official diagnoses and medication lists. It was common to come across a medication with no corresponding disease state in their history. Other times, it was a struggle to even get a clear perspective from the patient. The experience opened my eyes to the harshness of reality. In painting a picture of an ideal patient, pharmacy school often depicts an individual who is capable of taking care of his or her own health. This was my first time encountering patients who don’t necessarily have that capability.
Within InterPEN, our team roles were not strictly defined. As a pharmacy student, I may have been seen as the de facto medication expert among us, but so much of the patients’ care involved skills that did not follow a specific discipline. Their care involved meeting them at their physician appointments, providing an air filter to help their asthma, or scheduling a meeting with a dietician to educate them on eating habits. During the dietician meeting, we were able to involve their family members and educate them on practical, healthy lifestyle changes, such as incorporating leaner options of meat and more varied vegetables. These efforts were a result of the other students’ insights into our patients. I learned much from the other disciplines because my training as a pharmacy student is so focused on only one aspect of health care. I discovered a whole world of social work, medicine, and nursing that had been missing from my professional education. Working with the underserved made me especially appreciative of social work because concerns such as transportation do not come up in the patient cases my professors assign us. The other students taught me a great deal about compassion and empathy. They motivated me to become a better health care professional.
This is a rather unique model of IPE and one that has had significant effects on my education. Health care is becoming more team based, and it seems necessary to implement IPE into various curriculums. I fully encourage this type of IPE. Nothing compares to interacting with actual patients who face real concerns. No simulation provides the same type of experience. I was lucky to work with a group of individuals who approached this project with the same goals in mind. At the end of our collaborative relationships, our patients both clinically improved and had a better grasp on their health. I hope that years from now, they continue to flourish and implement what we taught them. I will certainly implement what they taught me.
Susie Lee is a 2017 PharmD candidate at the Rutgers University Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.