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5 valuable reasons to pursue interprofessional education

“Interprofessional” is a buzzword we all hear regularly, whether it’s at school, the workplace, or we're reading it on a job application. As health care professionals, we know that we have to work together, not only with our own dietetic colleagues, but also with professionals from other disciplines. 

At times, it can be hard to see why collaboration with other professions is important. How often have you uttered the phrase: "Ergh! It would be so much easier to work alone!"

Professionals from other disciples don't speak the same language as you, they often don’t understand your roles and responsibilities and, in the worst of cases, they can negate or impede the work that you have carefully put into place. By improving your interprofessional skills, you not only enhance your knowledge but you also avoid the anxieties and frustrations that can occur with team-based projects.

“Interprofessional” is more than just a buzzword, it’s a must for all health care professionals in order to provide the best care for clients, patients, and communities.

During a practicum placement with the University Health Network, I was asked if I wanted to participate in an interprofessional education (IPE) course with interns from other health care professions. I agreed, simply thinking that it would be a good way to break up my day in the hospital and a nice way to meet new people.

A speech language pathologist and an occupational therapist led the course. Over the course of two weeks, I worked with interns from pharmacy, occupational therapy, and nursing. Our goal was to collaborate to create a solution to a common patient problem. By the end of the course, we had come up with an impressive solution and I gained a newfound appreciation for my peers.

While this IPE experience was in a clinical context, the skills I gained can be applied to any workplace setting. Here are five valuable reasons to pursue interprofessional education:

1. Advocate for your profession

Many interprofessional issues stem from a lack of understanding. By discussing your roles, responsibilities, and daily activities with other professionals, you not only create a bridge of communication, but you also advocate for your profession as a whole. I have found that many people (even those working in health care) do not know exactly what a registered dietitian is or what we do.

When working with others, you are able to add unique insights but also provide information regarding the scope of your profession’s skill set. Impress everyone in the room when you talk about your role as a registered dietitian. We do much more than take diet orders and meal plan!

2. Identify workplace opportunities

While working through a shared task, you will begin to identify sources of opportunity in your collective work environment. Becoming more mindful of these areas will help the team avoid frustrations and take advantage of opportunities, while working together. You will realize how your professional roles can build upon and support each other. Discovering where your roles overlap and where they differ will help to provide more integrated care as a team, whether it’s for a patient, a community program, or policy development.  

3. Build respect between health professions and eliminate hierarchies 

Learning from your peers in other health care roles can build mutual respect as you gain insights, as well as an appreciation for each other's profession. By working interprofessionally, you gain a more in depth understanding of each profession’s expertise. There is no sense of hierarchy; rather, there is an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. Each health care profession has valuable insights to offer toward a solution.

4. Practice “out of the box” thinking

Working as part of a diverse team can lead to efficient and comprehensive problem solving. Each profession is likely addressing the problem from a different angle. As you discuss solutions, you'll discover answers you haven’t considered. It’s amazing what you can see when you have a different set of eyes on a problem! 

5. Collaborate and network

Working interprofessionally inherently connects you with other health care professionals you may not interact with very often otherwise. Fostering these relationships will benefit you throughout your career, as it can create a domino effect and provide even more connections in the future.

IPE creates an opportunity to reach out to diverse colleagues for assistance in tackling issues. Furthermore, the skills and understanding gained from working collaboratively provides you with a greater capacity to interact with various professionals throughout your career.  People respond more positively when they see that you respect and understand their role.

For these reasons and more, I encourage you to find opportunities to build your interprofessional skills. Shadowing other health professionals is a great way to build up this skillset, no matter how experienced you are. Or, simply ask a colleague for coffee to talk about their role.
If you're a student, ask your preceptor if you can participate in one of these courses (there is more information here if you’re at UHN). The skills learned will benefit you as you move forward in your career, and perhaps even in your personal life as you find connections and friends in unexpected places.


Editor’s note: Working collaboratively with other professionals allows us to provide the best client-centered care. Take advantage of IPE opportunities that arise in your area. For example, last year DC worked with the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists and Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) to develop a workshop designed to engage clinicians from different disciplines to advance their skills as part of an interprofessional dysphagia care team. For information on IPE, check out this page

Do you have questions or comments for Liana? Please leave them in the comments section below.
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