Enhancing Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Primary Health Care Initiative


Spotlight on Collaboration

A New Kind of Learning

The University of British Columbia's (UBC's) School of Continuing Studies is offering a new Certificate in Practice Education for Health and Human Services and the reviews from its inaugural class are excellent. Response has been positive largely because this program is a first of its kind in Canada — offering skills and support to a broad range of professionals in the health and human services field whose responsibilities include educating students and/or peers in their working environments.

The idea for the program came about as the result of an evaluation of the Preceptor and Mentor Initiative for Health Sciences in BC — a provincial strategy to facilitate preceptoring and mentoring within the health sciences education continuum. Carol Mitchell, the program coordinator for UBC's new Certificate in Practice Education for Health and Human Services, was intricately involved with the Preceptor and Mentor Initiative. "The Initiative was borne from the recognition that one of the key challenges for Canadian healthcare leaders, managers and educators involves preparing health professionals to work effectively and efficiently in a technologically complex, demanding and changing environment," explains Mitchell. "It's a situation that is not unique to any one discipline within the health and human services field, so part of the solution would logically be to address this from a multi-disciplinary approach. I think this new certificate program at UBC is one way to do it."

The program was developed in consultation with educators and professionals from health and human services and educational fields across the province under the leadership of Dr. John Gilbert of UBC's College of Health Disciplines. The University also received a grant from Health Human Resources of the BC Ministry of Health.

A Unique Approach

The program's unique focus is the development of cognitive, interpersonal and practical skills in clinical practice education using an interprofessional approach, where teamwork and an exchange of knowledge across disciplines and experience levels are encouraged. "While there are a few similar programs being offered in places like the United States, Australia and Scotland — some at the Master's degree level — none are designed to offer these skills to multiple disciplines learning together," says Mitchell.

In addition, the program was set up to be accessible, flexible and multi-faceted to support the needs of students from a wide range of settings, including rural/remote locations and large urban areas.

Eleanor Elston — a member of the program planning team and e-moderator for the program — has a background in workplace learning and leadership, and was instrumental in helping to develop the course design."The program incorporates computer-mediated conferencing and face-to-face delivery in a blended learning environment," explains Elston. "Although this type of learning forum has been used in the U.K. for a while, it is still relatively new to Canada."

The students periodically get a course package with up to five modules. They then read articles, go on-line for weekly topic discussions and answer posted questions. They can also respond to their classmates thoughts. For projects, they work in teams. "We use WebCT," says Elston. "It's a software platform with chat capabilities where you can post assignments for the moderator to collect. It's like a virtual classroom. All assignments are posted on-line and participants can read each others' work. Once students are comfortable with WebCT, it works really well."

Overall, the course entails approximately 190 hours of course time — including distance learning, independent study and face-to-face meetings — and can be completed in as little as 11 months while students continue to work in their profession.

The Interdisciplinary Component

The program was first offered from January to November 2005 and the graduating class included nurses, speech/language pathologists, radiotherapists, a dietitian, a physician and a rehabilitation counselor. Elston hopes that in future, other health professionals — like paramedicals, occupational therapists and physiotherapists — will also participate. "I think once the word gets out about this much-needed resource, there will be an ever-broadening representation of health and human service professionals among the student body," she says.

For now, participants like BarbMcKnight — a perioperative instructor from BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver — are simply pleased to be a part of this new approach. "Learning with other professionals was very interesting," enthuses McKnight. "Although the majority of participants in the program were nurses, which is my background, they came from different areas of nursing so that was educational in and of itself. With the other professionals, I found some of their issues similar to those found in nursing so there was definitely some common ground. We had all experienced some of the same issues with educating others in the workplace, but it was good to hear different perspectives on those issues."

Carole Stonebridge,a Senior Research Associate with the Conference Board of Canada, was also among the program's first graduates. Carole actually hails from Ontario and was the only student from out of province. "I'm currently working on the Enhancing Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Primary Health Care (EICP) Initiative so there was an obvious interest on our end as to what this course was about. I have a background in nursing, so it was a good fit for me," she explains. Carole was able to do the course work from home and traveled to BC for the face-to-face component.

"The one course that really stood out for me dealt with interprofessional communications models, conflict resolution, inter-cultural issues and communications strategies," says Stonebridge. "It was great to learn about this, especially alongside other disciplines." McKnight agrees. "I found all the courses beneficial, but I especially enjoyed the course that covered multi-cultural issues in the workplace and the one that covered program planning. I also liked learning about the differences between preceptoring and mentoring, and educators in the workplace. It far exceeds anything you could get through a workshop or other similar learning experience."

McKnight — who has been a nurse for 33 years — chose to take the course because it offered a practical, less time-consuming and less expensive alternative to the Masters program she had originally contemplated taking. "I facilitate education on different levels, depending on the need, and I do direct teaching with students, nurses and new employees. At this point in my career, I just needed something to fill in the blanks and this seemed to me to be a good way to do it."

Now that she has graduated, McKnight has no doubts she made the right choice. "The course really met my expectations. I received additional information and theory that I could take back with me and put into place right away. For example, it changed the way I look at developing education sessions. I consider the outcomes (the objectives) of the course and work back. I try to think about how I'm going to get there. I am also much more in tune with how to better recognize and consider individual needs in the workplace, like personal beliefs and attitudes, and alter my expectations accordingly."

Next Steps

With a new batch of students signed up for the next program, Mitchell and Elston are anticipating an even better experience for the group. Mitchell is waiting for an evaluation report on the first program offering to be finalized shortly, but has used the previous students' feedback to help refine the course delivery.

"We plan to provide a more in-depth introduction to the on-line process given the range of skills of the participants," explains Mitchell. "And we have adjusted the volume of material to make the time factor less challenging."

That's good news for previous participants like Stonebridge, who sometimes struggled with the volume of work and had to manage her way around WebCT. "Some of us needed more help than others," she admits. "We were in crisis mode at first because the computer expertise was so varied among the group. And it had been a while since some of the participants had hit the books. Papers had to be submitted on-line in a certain format and so on, so it was hard."

Despite those challenges, Elston saw what she calls an "amazing transformation" among the students over the course of the program. "At the beginning, there was little discussion. The students would post and then leave. I had to jump in at times to get things going. At the end, they were asking each other questions and changing directions without a hitch, so I didn't have to intervene anymore. They were comfortable with the technical component and comfortable with each other and everything just flowed." Stonebridge agrees. "Once the learning curve was mastered, it was great. There was a camaraderie that built up over time and we started to really encourage each other."

As for Barb McKnight, her strong endorsement of the original program has already brought in new participants. "I recommended this course to some of my peers and I know of at least two or three who have registered for the next program. For nurses who want to head into education, I think it is invaluable. It's something that you can use right away and into the future. It's good background to have and time well spent."

For Mitchell and Elston, that's music to their ears. "We know that providing the skills to create supportive and effective learning environments is critical in the health and human services field," says Mitchell. "The fact that we can offer that to a broad range of professionals within that field is definitely a step in the right direction."

For more information about UBC's Certificate in Practice Education for Health and Human Services, please visit www.cstudies.ubc.ca/cpe.

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Spotlight on Collaboration

The Collaboration Toolkit is now available for your reading pleasure. This toolkit contains our last research report—Interdisciplinary Primary Health Care: Finding the Answers—and a vast warehouse containing tools that have been designed across the country to support interdisciplinary practices. The Collaboration Toolkit offers practical tips and tools such as checklists, vision and policy statements, floor plans, transfer of function agreements, and many others. It is a must-read for anyone considering—or involved in—interdisciplinary care.

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