Communication, Coordination, Collaboration

Medical and Pharmacy Students Learn to Deliver Care as Part of a Team

March 06, 2015

The course is called “Introduction to Cultural Competence in Healthcare” and it is usually offered to Touro’s first year D.O. students to expose them to challenges in understanding cultural diversity in healthcare. The goal is to turn them into better doctors practicing medicine in underserved communities.

But on a recent Thursday morning, the lecture hall at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine on 125th Street was filled not just with the first-year student doctors, who usually occupy the lower three floors of the building in Harlem across from the Apollo Theater, but also their neighbors from the Touro College of Pharmacy, who reside on the upper floors of the building.  About 40 second-year Pharm.D. students are enrolled.

The occasion was the two schools’ inaugural exercise at “Interprofessional Education” – or “IPE” as it’s known.  IPE is defined by the World Health Organization as a situation where two or more health disciplines “learn about, with and from” one another for future collaboration, to improve patient care and lower healthcare costs.

By combining the pharmacy and medical students in one lecture hall, students from both schools are taking the course together in an attempt to address one of the components of the WHO definition of IPE, by learning ‘with’ one another.

“This is our first attempt at it,” said Esquire Anthony, D.O., assistant clinical professor in the Primary Care Department at TouroCOM, who  assembled an IPE task force comprised of faculty representatives from the pharmacy school,  the medical school  and other disciplines from the areas of social work and mental health as well as library and information services.

The class made a good first impression on Mohamad Cheaito, a second year Pharm.D. student from Michigan, who said IPE activities for students are important because doctors, nurses and pharmacists collaborate daily and the fields intertwine. 

“Combining IPE in one class gives the students early exposure that is needed before graduating and working in the real world,” he said, adding that cultural competency is especially important in diverse cities like New York. “Lacking cultural competence is similar to going to school but without pen and pencil to write with. A physician or a pharmacist can be experts in their fields, but yet they won’t have any means of communicating important information to the patient.”

Topics in the course will remain the same but there will be opportunities to address the pharmacy component as well as the medical component and then collaborate, Dr. Anthony said, with each discipline respecting the other’s understanding of cultural competency.

The morning session opened with Dean Robert Goldberg welcoming the students via skype from Washington, D.C.  As the students filled out pre-IPE surveys, Course Director Jeffrey Gardere, Ph.D. explained that exercises would be done in interprofessional groups working together. Term papers would be written that would reflect how pharmacy and medical students interacted and cooperated in providing culturally sensitive treatment. 

“This is new and historic,” Dr. Gardere said. “The only way we truly think is when we come out of our comfort zone. We know that when our physicians and pharmacists work together, the outcome is always better.”

Cara Rabin, a first year D.O. student originally from Manhattan, predicted fewer mistakes made in medicine as well as better camaraderie among staff, as a result of such collaboration.  “If these professions learn together, they can better understand where others are coming from and make better spur –of- the -moment decisions. I have never worked with pharmacists before but I think there can only be value in adding pharmacy students, as they are a critical part of inpatient and outpatient clinical care.”

Dr. Anthony took the class through a power point presentation on cultural competence in healthcare and interprofessional education and collaborative practice. He touched on a wide range of topics including health care disparities, and provided examples of interprofessional collaboration at Touro that the community may not even be aware of – like a basketball game between both the pharmacy and medical school.  

“When there is a team approach there is cost savings, and patients appreciate it when more than one healthcare specialist is addressing their care. The health outcomes are better,” he said.