How interprofessional education improves collaborative practice in nursing


Interprofessional education is increasingly talked about within the nursing profession, and you probably already have a rough idea what it means. However, new ideas are always coming and going, so it’s understandable if you haven’t felt the need to rush into finding out more. You’ll be pleased to hear, however, that this is one idea that is likely to stick around, because it’s really getting results.

This article looks at the ways that it facilitates more effective working, as well as the positive advantages it provides for patients and its positive effect on job satisfaction for all of the professionals involved.

Interprofessional education: an overview

At its simplest, interprofessional education means undertaking some of your training alongside professionals from different fields. These might be medical students or members of a niche profession such as physiotherapy or anesthesiology with whom, depending on your role, you may have very little contact day to day.

By making you more aware of who they are and what they do, it makes future collaboration easier, and helps you to anticipate when it might be useful to draw on their expertise in reference to a particular patient. It helps you to understand how they think and what their priorities are, while they get the same benefit in regard to you.

At present, it’s something that some course providers, hospitals and larger clinics are making available as a specific module, but it’s gradually being integrated into specific areas of training. In the future, it’s likely that every new nurse will experience it.

Developing interprofessional thinking

One of the most important benefits of interprofessional education is that it reduces misunderstandings between collaborating professionals by enabling you to recognize and correctly anticipate one another’s thought processes. Traditionally, doctors have tended to think of nurses as lacking in focus and overly sentimental about patients, whereas nurses have tended to think of doctors as fixated on narrow ways of thinking that don’t take into account the overall wellbeing of those patients.

Training together makes it much easier to look past these stereotypes and see where someone from a different professional background is coming from. It will help you to appreciate the benefits of doctors’ and other professionals’ approaches, while they develop more respect for yours.

Improving communication strategies

When you have a better understanding of how somebody thinks, it’s easier to communicate effectively with that person. You’re less likely to get the wrong end of the stick in conversation, and you’ll also find it easier to understand each other’s notes and reports.

Interprofessional training isn’t something that has to happen right at the start of your career path to be effective. Even when it begins much later, it gives you a chance to observe the way that members of different professions organize and systematize their notes, identifying the points that stand out to them and the things that they might overlook.

This will help you to track back and forth through a report so as to quickly extract the information you need, and it means that you’ll know which supplementary questions you need to ask in order to be confident that everything important has been covered.

Supporting knowledge and information exchange

One of the classic difficulties that arises in collaborative practice concerns the hoarding of information as a means of establishing status or seeking to control the way that a case is handled.

Communication isn’t just about facility – it’s also about willingness to share. Studies have found that when professionals from different fields train together, they become much more willing to exchange knowledge and information on an ongoing basis – and not just with the people who were in their training groups. They’re less nervous about losing control because they find it easier to see where other professionals are coming from and recognize their competence. They also recognize the value that an exchange of information can have for them.

This extends beyond the particulars of individual cases to a general sharing of knowledge, which also speeds up the process through which professionals in all healthcare fields are able to become aware of, and take advantage of, new research.

Working with shared knowledge

When you’re directly engaged in collaborative work, establishing a shared knowledge base makes progress much faster because you can be confident that your decisions will be understood in context.

You’ll have a shared resource to tap into, and your different professional backgrounds will enable you to bring different insights to it, giving each of you a deeper understanding. In some situations, you will be able to use it to strategize across larger areas instead of just bringing it to bear in individual cases, and it can help to inform healthcare policy in the institutions where you work.

This makes it particularly useful if you plan to take a CCNE accredited course such as the post-master’s DNP at Walsh University, with a view to moving into leadership. This eight to 16-week course applies interdisciplinary principles throughout, recognizing that leadership requires the ability to synthesize information from across a variety of fields.

Building understanding and trust

Along with improved intellectual understanding comes improved emotional understanding and trust. As this grows, you’ll be better able to support your colleagues within a team drawn from different professional backgrounds.

Colleagues who understand the emotional effort involved when nurses support patients through difficult courses of treatment will show more consideration, and when they give you more honest access to their own feelings, you’ll find it easier to predict their moods and to establish frameworks of mutual support. You’ll become more confident that you know how they will handle any given situation, enabling you to relax more and spend less of your time making contingency plans. You’ll also feel less worried about them deciding to blame you if something goes wrong, as the assurance grows that you have each other’s backs.

Expanding the team

Humans are tribal creatures naturally inclined to form into groups and treat outsiders with suspicion. In hospitals and larger clinics, this often translates into nursing teams socializing together and interacting only minimally with other healthcare professionals, if not becoming outright competitive.

Interprofessional education changes this, creating the sense of being part of a larger team. This makes working with other professionals within such an organization a satisfying experience, and enables institutions to run more efficiently without adding to the day-to-day burden of stress.

It can lead to the opening up of new social opportunities and the chance to make new friends. Even when only a handful of people have this kind of education, they can function as points of connection to bring everybody else together.

Creating a more positive workplace

Breaking down barriers and enhancing teamwork like this makes for a happier workplace, with rates of job satisfaction increasing after this sort of training is introduced. It helps to break down established tensions by making it easier for everybody working within a medical institution to see everybody else as a teammate and natural ally.

Day-to-day sources of irritation and anxiety go away once there is greater understanding. When problems do arise, it’s much easier to talk them through. The creation of additional social outlets also helps to reduce the pressure within long-established teams, because people who don’t get along don’t feel that they have to spend as much time together. Meanwhile, an improved ability to get the work done contributes to an increased sense of achievement.

The impact on patients

Most important of all, of course, is the way that patients are affected by all this – and that’s where there’s really good news. Increased provision of interprofessional education correlates with shorter hospital stays per patient and improved overall health outcomes. As nurses appreciate better than anyone, patients are complex individuals, and it’s rare for any one of them to have just a single health issue on which attention needs to be focused.

When a team of healthcare professionals is able to work with optimal efficiency, the treatment of diseases or injuries can be coordinated with holistic healthcare, including expert attention to diet and exercise where needed, and a proper focus on psychological as well as physical needs. This makes it much easier to get patients back into a position where they can take care of themselves and continue to attain their health goals.

With all these advantages, interprofessional education in the healthcare environment is likely to become more and more popular. It couldn’t be more critical, as the recent exodus of healthcare professionals means that efficiency needs to be improved wherever possible, and anything that generates a morale boost is particularly welcome.

Meanwhile, as a new crop of nurses enters the profession to replace those who are leaving, efforts can be made to introduce this element into their education as quickly as possible, speeding up the pace of positive change. The future of healthcare looks far less divided, and everybody will benefit from that.

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