The practice of medicine across all disciplines is becoming more complex. While advances in technology allow us to provide better care, patients can get lost in the hustle between physicians and other health care workers. One of the best approaches we as future physicians can take to help mitigate patient confusion and utilize the full capacity of all health care workers is to work as a cohesive team. Working as a member of a team is engrained early in medical school but the health care team extends beyond that of medical students, residents and attending physicians. Medical education can, and we believe should, include training with other allied medical professions. Studying medicine at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University and other medical colleges at multidisciplinary campuses provides students with the opportunity to learn alongside other medical professionals. This type of study provides a better understanding of the other professions and fosters respect for our non physician colleagues.
Midwestern University incorporates two interdisciplinary courses into its medical curriculum: Interprofessional Education and Healthcare Communications. Interprofessional Education brings together pharmacy, medical, dental, physician assistant, physical therapy and occupational therapy students where each student describes their future roles and responsibilities in their respective professions. At the end of the course, students representing each profession work in teams to complete simulated patient encounters. Each simulated patient portrays someone who has been lost in the complexities of our health care system, which unfortunately is not an uncommon occurrence. During these simulated patient encounters, students discuss barriers that prevent the patient’s health care needs from being met. Students then assemble into interprofessional care teams, define their roles to the patient and make recommendations based on a collaborative approach.
The Interprofessional Education course is followed by a course entitled Healthcare Communications, which is taken by medical, dental and pharmacy students. This course was created after numerous studies showed that health care is less effective without a conscious effort at communication. Students learn the principles and elements of interpersonal and nonverbal communication as well as barriers to communication. Strategies for cultural sensitivity and awareness in our interactions with other health care workers is also discussed. The course requires students to examine their individual style of communication and learn how to develop interpersonal skills to foster a more efficient and respectful atmosphere.
Medical education should provide an atmosphere for collaboration with allied health care professionals by providing exposure and interaction with all members of the health care team. Midwestern University has adopted this approach and we believe other medical colleges can do the same. By incorporating a team approach early on in medical education, future physicians are better equipped to work cohesively as a team, and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.