June 5, 2023

Interprofessional Education in Medical Technology and Health Programs at Dawson: Lessons Learned

Since 2018, teachers across the 7 medical technology and health disciplines taught at Dawson College have come together to ideate, design, create, and refine overlapping pedagogical activities for the 800 students of the sector. Ultimately, this Interprofessional Education (IPE) project aims to provide students in the programs concerned with a skill set and acumen to work together effectively for the patient. To illustrate how we achieved this, we present IPE and discuss some of the activities that our team has developed over the years—a work in progress that will continue as we undertake the 2nd chapter of our project.

What is interprofessional education (IPE)?

In the health sciences, the IPE approach stems from the complex nature of the patient’s needs and the health care system. Effective collaboration among multiple health care professionals is essential for a comprehensive health care approach. That’s why many educational institutions across Canada have started implementing IPE activities to augment interactions between students in different health-related programs. At Dawson College, the IPE project involves students in:

  • Biomedical Laboratory Technology
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Medical Ultrasound Technology
  • Nursing
  • Physiotherapy Technology
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Social Service

Medical Ultrasound Technology is a brand-new program, created in 2021. The IPE project really was a wonderful way for a young program to seek some mentorship from our peers while offering something more to our students from day one. I felt like a kid in a candy store of different possibilities for the kinds of collaborations that could come out of this.

— Melanie Nash, Medical Ultrasound teacher

IPE is a process that teaches students how to collaborate across professions. Its aim is to allow students to “understand their own professional identity while gaining an understanding of other professional’s roles on the health care team.” The benefit for our students is that it helps them master:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict management skills
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork skills
  • Leadership skills

The research already shows that IPE works for improving communication and patient outcomes. It decreases burnout and we see that our IPE activities are already having a positive effect on patient care and on students themselves as they can communicate more easily with other professions.

— Sharon Clegg, Physiotherapy Technology teacher

IPE is different from an interdisciplinary approach: A discipline is an academic division of knowledge, while a profession is an occupation, vocation, or career that requires special education. Thus,

  • an interdisciplinary approach focuses on the interaction between disciplines
  • an interprofessional approach concerns the relationship that is created amongst its users

The purpose of an interprofessional approach is still to interact and work to a common goal, yet when the common goal is the health of the patient, a relationship between professions needs to be formed.

One important aspect of IPE research is the continued focus on the dynamic and ever-shifting needs of patients. In order to best help people in the health care system, the health care team needs to also be dynamic and be able to shift. By experiencing these types of dynamic systems in their training, our students have a higher chance of being more collaborative practice ready and react accordingly to the needs of the patient. 

— John Battista, Radiation Oncology teacher

We’ve learned a lot from the Canadian Interprofessional Healthcare Collaborative and their guide to implementing an IPE program. One of our major takeaways from their work has been the 6 IPE competencies:

  • Role Clarification
  • Interprofessional Communication
  • Client and Family centered care
  • Teamwork
  • Collaborative Leadership
  • Conflict Resolution

Some IPE activities fostering collaboration across professions

Using these competencies, we have been able to develop a wide variety of IPE learning opportunities. We began with low-barrier and low-risk activities to minimize disruptions to what is already working and then we slowly progressed to more complex learning opportunities. Here, we present a selection of learning opportunities we created, in the order students engage with them as they progress through their respective programs.

Creating a sense of belonging

Working with Student Services, the IPE team organizes a group orientation for all 1st-year students from the sector. Beyond giving the students a much-needed introduction to the Dawson community, it:

  • provides them with a deeper sense of belonging to the sector of health technology disciplines
  • allows them to immediately understand that they are a part of a team of health professionals and that they are not alone in their training

IPE is especially important in Biomedical Laboratory Technology, because Medical Laboratory Technologists generally have little patient contact. We are often viewed as being “behind the scenes”, with not many other professionals having a clear idea of what it is we do. Being involved in IPE is a way to change that, while creating a powerful reminder to Technologists about the impact our work has on patient outcomes. 

— Danny Vescio, Biomedical Laboratory Technology teacher

Several dozens of college students are sitting in the bleachers of an indoor gymnasium equipped for basketball. The court has been cleared and set up with a small stage and 2 portable screens for projections. No content is being projected. A woman is standing on the stage talking to the students.

Students participating in the IPE group orientation activity

Along with the group orientation, during the middle of their 1st semester, students within the sector participate in a 2-hour role clarification workshop. This workshop includes some ice breakers, a tour of the lab and teaching spaces of each discipline, as well as some case studies where students must identify how their discipline would help the patient.

It was really fascinating and interesting to learn about the other health professions. During the session, we learned how important it is to work with other health professions in order to help our patients. I believe it is really important to learn about the other professions in order for us to succeed in the future.

— Rose Gauthier-Villeneuve, 1st-year student in Physiotherapy Technology

Facing away from the camera, 9 college students are standing in a medical imaging technology laboratory equipped with several computer screens on which scan results are displayed. They are listening to their female teacher, who is giving explanations.

Teacher Maria Lavoie talks to students from other disciplines about computerized tomography (CT) Scan

Learning in the flesh

During their 2nd semester, using cadavers at the Concordia University Exercise Science lab, roughly 150 students from the sector explore the commonalities and differences between the medical technology disciplines. Students from each discipline teach each other about the systems of the body using the cadavers as their teaching tool. Employing active learning strategies, the students can exchange with one another, which leads to some “aha” moments as students are able to see, literally in the flesh, what they have been learning about throughout their education.

It really felt gratifying and rewarding to interact and share medical knowledge with the other disciplines that are so specialized in their field, and how the combined knowledge can help the patient! I think this experience was really eye-opening and puts everything we learned throughout the year into a different perspective on how our individual roles can cohesively shape the quality of healthcare for the population!

— Leon Jin Kim,1st-year student in Diagnostic Imaging

Sarah Lynn – A breast cancer survivor

As the students’ training continues, they are immersed in a more complex Role Clarification activity. This activity for all 2nd-year students centers around Sarah Lynn, a breast cancer survivor. The learning objective of this activity is for the students in each of the 7 disciplines to demonstrate their role within the case as well as learn each other’s roles when helping Sarah Lynn. The students work in small interdisciplinary groups to:

  • document their discipline-specific contributions to Sarah Lynn’s recovery
  • share videos they create
  • work together on an alignment activity

The Sarah Lynn breast cancer project made everyone very empathetic to the patient. It wasn’t just about learning the role that everybody had, but also about the patient experience. The students’ feedback has been that they really are taken aback or that it was very different from other experiences they’ve had just within their own discipline. If the students can all empathize together, then they can also work and collaborate better. 

— Krista Bulow, Physiotherapy Technology teacher 

We prepared a video presentation about the impactful Sarah Lynn activity and its implementation.

IPE: A Cas Study Across the Medical Disciplines

In our podcast, we discuss the Sarah Lynn activity in more detail. Another episode presents the audio testimonial that is presented to the students as part of the case study.

2 students and a teacher talk about the Sarah Lynn breast cancer case study. They discuss how the activity went and what everyone learned.

This podcast episode presents the testimonial of the Sarah Lynn character, which is presented to our students as part of the learning activity.

Team intervention with neurological patients

Students from Physiotherapy Technology and Social Service participate in a 3-hour workshop to practice their teamwork skills by intervening with a neurological patient together. Using 4 different patient cases, students work in small heterogeneous teams to create and execute the intervention procedure. With the use of active learning strategies and role-play scenarios, the students are able to learn with, from, and about each other through this high-paced yet focused workshop. As the 2 disciplines frequently overlap, the impact of this activity is often larger than the learning objectives.

I really enjoyed it and I learned how important it is to talk with other disciplines to get the most out of their knowledge before working with a client whose main issue is out of our expertise. In the role-play I took part in, I was convinced by the client that they didn’t need services because I didn’t know what the physiotherapy technologist knew about the medical condition the client had. I now know that when working on an interdisciplinary team, it is important to communicate and get as much information from the other professionals working with this client in order to give the best services.  

—Audrey-Anne St-Laurent, student in Social Service

The role clarification workshop provides Social Service and Physiotherapy Technology students with a space to practice their discipline-specific skills while learning how their respective professional roles can be complementary. When faced with complex or challenging situations, students also realize that working collaboratively with other disciplines can enhance their ability to effectively respond to and meet the needs of the person (patient) in front of them.

—Marie-Eve Dufour, Social Service teacher

About 20 college students are sitting in a circle in a big room. They are listening to their male teacher, who is also sitting down. Behind the teacher, a slide is projected on a big screen. It reads: “How did it go? How do you feel? Did the role play go as planned?”

Students debriefing their team intervention

Motivational interviewing

Students from Nursing and Physiotherapy Technology put their motivational interviewing and teamwork skills to the test during their 5th semester. Working as a team, they participate in an IPE simulation by intervening with patients in the hospital 1-day post orthopaedic operation. They need to work together to mobilize the patient, who strongly believes that rest is the best way to rehabilitate. Challenged to incorporate cultural safety parameters, the students intervene with the patient and are tasked with applying their clinical reasoning and clinical judgement skills as well as navigating the concept of teamwork.

Working with nursing students gave me insight into what I should expect in the workforce and the multidisciplinary team that comes with treating patients. This activity gave me a greater understanding of this scope of practice in the medical field and how when we come together, our collaboration can offer our patients the best quality of care.

—Sarah Tripodi, 3rd-year student in Physiotherapy Technology

Reacting in an emergency

Students from Radiation Oncology and Diagnostic Imaging participate in an interdisciplinary simulation where they have to react to a medical emergency during a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. Common to both disciplines, students are taught multiple emergency protocols to follow and depending on the severity of the emergency have to react accordingly. Achieved through a simulation activity, this learning opportunity truly immerses the students in a high-pressure and high-stakes situation that is less frequent in the real world.

Before I taught at Dawson, I was teaching as a clinical instructor at the hospital, which is a multidisciplinary setting. So, what I really like about IPE, and activities like this simulation, is that it brings the clinical setting down to the college, which is a safe setting for experiential learning.

— Maria Lavoie, Diagnostic Imaging Technology teacher

In a classroom with big windows, a female college student is standing beside a stretcher. On the stretcher is another female, dressed in a hospital gown and role-playing a patient. The student appears to be listening or talking to the patient. 5 college students, one of which is sitting down while the others are standing up, are observing the scene.

Students participating in an interdisciplinary simulation

Culminating their IPE experiences

Using a 2-year ECQ grant, the teachers designed a 1-day symposium for all 3rd-year students. During the symposium, students spend the day exploring conflict resolution, communication, and cultural safety. With the help of graduates from the Theatre program as well as Dawson’s Creative Collective for Change initiative, the immersive activities include:

  • scripted skits
  • role-playing
  • group discussions on the highlighted topics
  • collaboratively authoring of a manifesto

I truly enjoyed the interprofessional day at Dawson. It was very interesting to see all the health care professionals come together and talk about their roles in the health care system. Listening to everyone discuss their successes and their hardships throughout their programs was touching. Although we are all different, we are also the same. I loved the support, encouragement, and positivity we gave each other. I hope I have the opportunity to work with these wonderful human beings.

— Brittany Isenberg, 3rd-year student in Nursing

Dozens of college students and their teachers are seated in a theatre with dark red seats and walls.

Students and faculty participating in the IPE symposium

In this podcast episode, 2 students and a teacher who participated in the IPE symposium talk about their experience and the impact of IPE.

A work in progress

Part of our work has been establishing a framework for creating future opportunities for the students to learn with, from, and about each other. The team landed on the overarching goals of what we are starting to think of as the IPE “meta-program” developed around 3 main objectives:

  • Orientation and exposure—laying the foundation through collaboration and role clarification
  • Immersion—having students deepen their understanding of collaboration
  • Competence—having students apply their foundational knowledge into complex activities

These specific IPE competencies are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy as well as the IPE competencies, levels, and categories designed by the Canadian Interprofessional Health Collaborative. We are in the process of developing our own step-by-step framework to help guide our process and adapt to the college context.

What we’re trying to do with our students is provide them with opportunities to practice their collective competence, so they have a better chance of being collaborative practice ready. When teaching about collective competence, an analogy we like to use is an orchestra. Within an orchestra, there are a bunch of experts who are very good at playing a specific instrument. When these experts compete or they do not align their expertise, then their sound is dreadful. When these experts work collaboratively, communicate, and understand each other, then magic is produced. We feel it is the same in healthcare. A successful health care system consists of the combination of being competent in your field and collectively competent at both times. We often tell the students that if we align our music and work together, we achieve something potentially better and quicker, with a higher quality of care.

—Tim Miller, Physiotherapy Technology teacher

If you are curious to find out more about our IPE project, including these and other activities as well as what’s ahead for chapter 2, you might want to watch this video presentation.

Lessons learned

Through the collaborative development of these activities, and many others, the IPE team has learned a lot. We would like to share 3 key lessons we have learned so far, in case other groups are attempting a similar type of project:

  • Listen, empathetically. When trying to build relationships across teams, it is critical to listen to people and try to put yourself in their shoes. Each of the 7 medical and health-related programs has a different day-to-day life. It is by listening to each other that we have been able to reach the level of teamwork we have achieved to date.
  • Slow is good. In the adoption of something new, we knew that starting off with a bang could make even a good idea fail. In order to gain and maintain momentum, we decided that change has to occur gradually and naturally so that everyone has a chance to go through their process, at their pace.
  • Try what makes sense.  Each program was already putting its students through the paces of simulation or practical learning. If there were low-barrier and low-risk ideas or initiatives to add another group to the mix, we went for them. Our credo was that we would never know if something would work until we tried it.

While the process has been new for everyone, the key success factor in our work has been staying true to our individual needs and trying to do the best for our students by incorporating activities all the while working in collaboration with each other, as a team. We hope that the multiple revisions happening in the health tech sector will open new logistical possibilities for these types of activities to continue to be developed, because the value for students makes it worth the effort.

As Krista Bulow puts it: “The good news is that more and more people are drinking the Koolaid.” Will you?

About the authors

Tim Miller

Tim Miller has been a member of the Physiotherapy Technology Department since 2013. He is heavily involved in the Interprofessional Education project, acting as the project lead. When Tim is not teaching, he enjoys cooking (and eating), coaching his kids’ sports teams, and playing the guitar.

Krista Bulow

Krista Bulow is a teacher in the Physiotherapy Technology program at Dawson College. She is a Physiotherapist by trade and loves the challenge of teaching in this specialized field. Having worked in a variety of health care settings, Krista has seen first-hand how team dynamics across professions can make or break a patient’s experience. She truly believes that an integrated interprofessional education program will help graduate students that will be more ready to collaborate with other professions in their clinical experiences and ultimately in their future employment, which in turn benefits the patient! As a teacher, Krista believes it is a lovely thing to witness when all disciplines/students are working towards the common goal of patient-centered care!

Melanie Nash

Melanie Nash is co-chair and faculty member in the newly created Medical Ultrasound program at Dawson College. She teaches in abdominal/pelvic, vascular and musculoskeletal ultrasound. She has worked in medical imaging in hospital and clinical settings for over a decade, and enjoys traveling, cooking and pampering cats.

Sharon Clegg

Sharon Clegg, Physiotherapist, helped to create the Physiotherapy Technology program at Dawson College and has been teaching in this medical program for the past 10 years. Her previous employment included the Montreal Children’s hospital where she supervised McGill physiotherapy students for more than 15 years. That is where she developed her passion for interprofessional education and collaborating with other medical disciplines to better patient outcomes and improve quality of care and life. She believes furthering the use of technology in health care and education is another way to keep students on the forefront of their chosen professions.

Marie-Eve Dufour

Marie-Eve Dufour is a professional Social Worker whose direct practice in the Health and Social Service network, working with individuals and families, has inspired her teaching and motivated her involvement in interprofessional education at Dawson College. Marie-Eve has been teaching in the Social Service program since 2011 and hopes to continue engaging students in learning activities that will enhance their interprofessional collaboration in the field for the benefit of the populations they will serve.

John Battista

John Battista is currently working as a teacher in the Radiation Oncology Technology program at Dawson College. He has 10 years of clinical experience, having worked at both the Montreal General and Royal Victoria hospitals in the Cedars Cancer Centre. He is interested in incorporating an active learning approach in his teaching through the use of simulation as well as collaborating with other medical programs through the Interprofessional Education team.

Danny Vescio

Danny Vescio has over 20 years of expertise in clinical labs, including management roles. After a successful career in the healthcare industry, he decided to transition into the field of education, bringing his knowledge to aspiring Medical Technologists. Understanding first-hand both the challenges and the benefits of working collaboratively with various professionals in the workplace, Danny is now committed to equipping future laboratory professionals with the skills and interdisciplinary mindset necessary to excel and make a meaningful impact on patient care.

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