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Concordia University Wisconsin IPE program encourages student teamwork

Concordia University Wisconsin nursing student Megan Zusy found herself recently engaged in discussion with about 10 other students in varying health care programs about a hypothetical patient, Mr. Lopez.

The students were given a case study that involved the 71-year-old Lopez, who maintained an active lifestyle for most of his life, but began suffering from chronic knee pain soon after retirement. When he wasn’t able to find much relief from pain medication, his physicians ultimately recommended he have knee replacement surgery.

Zusy and her group members, which included students in pharmacy, nursing, social work, occupational therapy, physical therapy and medicine, spent time evaluating the case together and then communicating their assessments from the lens of their respective programs.

“It was helpful learning how to communicate with each profession because the more communication, the better off your patient is,” Zusy said. “Just knowing more about your resources is definitely helpful for opening up lines of communication.”

Interprofessional communication was a goal of the event, which brought together more than 200 other students pursuing degrees in one of Concordia’s six health and human services programs. Also in attendance were about 25 students from the Medical College of Wisconsin, who were looking to learn about other health fields in order to practice collaboratively after graduation. 

The event–-one of four throughout the academic year–-is part of Concordia’s budding Interprofessional Education (IPE) program.

In his new role as Concordia’s IPE coordinator, Michael Oldani, PhD, MS, is responsible for building a campus-wide network of IPE opportunities that allow students to recognize the value of IPE and to actively participate in interprofessional practice and learning experiences throughout the year.

“If students learn to rely on their team members, on other professionals, and see the value in collaboration, their job is going to be a lot less stressful and they’re going to have a lot less burnout and really be ready for a future career in team-based health care,” Oldani said. “I think it’s hard for people,  given our nature, to give up the reigns sometimes, but that’s not really what IPE is. It’s working toward a common goal, which is: let’s get this patient better.”

Research over the past decade shows that increased teamwork among health care professionals can significantly reduce errors, improve the patient’s overall quality of care and drive professionals to take a more patient-centered approach, said Oldani. 

Because IPE has been strongly supported by organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine, all relevant health programs are being accredited with IPE as part of their curriculum. Universities, like Concordia, are taking action to bolster their Interprofessional Education opportunities for students.

The goal over the next five years, is to have IPE be hard-wired into CUW’s curriculum in order to credential the next generation of students, says Oldani.

Concordia has set itself apart from other schools in many ways with its program.

“We’re unique in that we’re diverse enough in terms of our health professions offered, yet small enough that we can fine-tune and coordinate the experience,” Oldani said. “I think the students still feel that it’s very student-centered, and they don’t get lost in the shuffle.”

As a Christian university, Concordia’s mission along with other programs unique to the university, such as Lay Ministry, also provide an added opportunity for collaboration between students in the traditional IPE fields and those who will potentially minister to a patient’s spiritual needs, said Oldani.

“We can make it even a little bit more holistic than other places because of that,” he said.
“Our mission of helping students develop in ‘mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the world’ truly applies to patient-centered care.”

In addition to the IPE learning events throughout the school year, students have IPE opportunities through new outreach efforts being implemented through the program, such as Concordia’s Mind-Body-Spirit IPE Wellness Fair in April.

“Concordia was already on the cutting edge in thinking about IPE and implementing it ahead of other institutions,” Oldani says. “What I think is evolving now for us is all these different professions here realize they can take a leadership role regionally. Our IPE efforts are a very strong recruiting tool, and that’s exciting for our students and faculty, and for our university.”

Learn more about Concordia’s IPE program at https://www.cuw.edu/departments/ipe/index.html