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How nurses and other health care disciplines are being educated is starting to have a significant impact on the nursing role. A growing focus on interprofessional education (IPE) is shifting what we know about how the health care team can best work to improve patient lives. It is critical to understand what IPE is, why it is so important, and how nurses must leverage this knowledge to ride the wave that is transforming health care delivery.

What is IPE?

Since the 1970s, there has been growing attention on the quality of health care delivery. One thing has become clear: An increasing number of health care providers are interacting with patients, yet the delivery of this complex care often occurs in silos. One solution that has gained traction is IPE, which is now a requirement in most health care discipline programs. It is defined by the World Health Organization as learning from, about and with two or more disciplines, with a singular focus on the patients’ needs above all else. The idea is that if health care disciplines embrace collaborative learning from the beginning, then they will be prepared for collaborative practice once they graduate.

Why does IPE matter?

If you are reading this and have an RN past your name, you likely are able to think of more than one situation during which you have seen miscommunication and disconnected processes get in the way of patient care. Perhaps you have been at lunch only to learn that the physical therapist has come, ambulated your patient and wrote a report without your input. Or, was there a time when, during a patient admission, you learn they were recently seen by a provider and had tests run, but can’t tell you what the test results were or the name of the medication that was provided? Do you remember a time when a meal tray was delivered to a patient that you knew was having difficulty swallowing or had just started taking insulin? These disconnects are frighteningly common. IPE is one important intervention aimed at closing these gaps. By teaching future health care personnel how to work collaboratively through a team-based approach, we can minimize fragmentation of care delivery and reduce medical errors and adverse outcomes.

Riding the IPE wave

Like other aspects of nursing education, IPE teaches competencies that will lead to proficiency in a clinical skill. The skill, in this case, is working collaboratively to deliver coordinated care with other disciplines. Nurses who haven’t had the benefit of participating in IPE need to understand what these competencies are and how to best support them. This is not only important for the new nurses we will be orienting to the role, but also for those of us who need to embrace this new way of caring for our patients. The following four competencies have become the bedrock of IPE because they form the cornerstones of collaborative practice.

  • Communication: Interprofessional communication should be clear, problem-focused, and avoid discipline-specific terms and abbreviations.
  • Teams and Teamwork: Embracing relationship-building principles to develop effective team dynamics with other disciplines is the key to delivering safe, efficient, and effective patient care.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: As an interprofessional practitioner, you should have an understanding of your own role as well as how the role of other disciplines can help address the complex needs of patients.
  • Values and Ethics: Effective collaboration with other disciplines requires mutual respect and shared values for the skills and knowledge we each bring to the patient care team.

Are you ready to embrace this new way of delivering care? Our newest nurses are and will undoubtedly begin shifting the culture from distinct health care disciplines toward health care teams.

Heidi Sanborn, DNP, RN, CNE

Heidi Sanborn, DNP, RN, CNE

Heidi Sanborn, DNP, RN, CNE, is clinical assistant professor and interim director of the RN-BSN and Concurrent Enrollment Program (CEP) in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. Her career began over 25 years ago in business before following her heart and becoming a nurse.
Heidi Sanborn, DNP, RN, CNE

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