Breaking down barriers: Wayne State IPE course connects students with disability community

logosThis past fall semester of 2023, the 2-credit course "Special Topics - Interprofessional Education" was offered to 16 Wayne State University health professions students for the third time since it was initially offered as a pilot course in Fall 2021. The team-taught hybrid course is designed for health professions students to learn about how each discipline contributes to the healthcare team and the role of team collaboration in preparing health care professionals for collaborative practice.

The course consists of online modules, such as lectures and readings, small group discussions, interactive learning assignments, virtual meetings, simulation-based learning, team-based debriefing, and case-based learning. The final class featured an in-person visit to The Arc Detroit, a local organization that is committed to providing advocacy for persons with intellectual impairments and other developmental disabilities. The aim of the visit was to meet as a team with Arc members to help students become more successful and effective healthcare professionals by increasing awareness of patients' lived experiences and barriers they face.

Loren Glover, executive director of The Arc Detroit, worked with Dr. Aline Saad, associate professor (clinical) and coordinator of interprofessional education in WSU Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, to coordinate the class visit. "There is disparity in health care when it comes to people living with a disability. I think one of the reasons for this health disparity is that medical professionals have little to no interaction with people living with a disability. If they see and interact with people living with a disability, students may hopefully utilize this knowledge and familiarity in their professional careers," said Glover.

According to Dr. Saad, feedback from the students' visit to The Arc Detroit was very positive. WSU Pharmacy doctoral student Adam Rettig found The Arc Detroit visit to be "one of the best experiences of any class I've had to date," commented Rettig. "Overall, I got a better understanding of the perspective of the patient. Much more so for those who have challenges that are not faced by a majority of the population. It was an eye-opening experience and helped me to understand how I should tailor my approach to those living with disabilities."

WSU College of Nursing student Amani Al Khalfan also found the experience to be a valuable one. "Our visit to Thr Arc Detroit helped me understand the firsthand experience of individuals living with disabilities in their interactions with healthcare professionals and access to services," said Al Khalfan. "Also, I gained insight into some obstacles within the healthcare system that contribute to disparities in providing care for those individuals."

Because of the positive student feedback from the experience, the IPE Elective Course faculty team plans to expand on the learning objectives of the course that focus on persons living with disabilities and offer similar experiences for students in the future. “Interprofessional education is important because it helps healthcare professionals from different disciplines learn how to work together effectively to provide the best possible care for their patients,” said Dr. Saad. “The IPE course at Wayne State University is a great example of how we can redesign health professions education to center it on interprofessional collaboration that optimizes patient care.” Dr. Dennis Tsilimingras, associate professor of Family Medicine & Public Health Sciences at the WSU School of Medicine, added “that interprofessional education evolved from the patient safety movement with the publication of the Institute of Medicine reports on “Err is human” and Crossing the Quality Chasm” over two decades ago. This movement has taught all disciplines to work collaboratively to avoid medical errors and adverse events to patients under our care." 

The IPE course was offered to students from WSU College of Nursing, the WSU Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the WSU School of Medicine and the WSU School of Social Work. Future plans for the course include using student feedback to improve the course, opening the course to other disciplines, and introducing expanded topics that address current and emerging health issues.