Preparing students for health and social care practice through interprofessional learning

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 38: Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World

July, 2015, 528 pages
Published by
T. Thomas, E. Levin, P. Dawson, K. Fraser & R. Hadgraft

It is well accepted that health and social care professionals work under conditions of complexity and uncertainty. This reality shapes the education of students, which aims to equip them for such practice. Part of this complexity arises from having to work with others from a range of other health professions, often with very different professional assumptions about ‘health’ and how health and social care should be provided. The research described in this paper pertains to a compulsory course for second–year occupational therapy and social work students. Located early in their programs, before substantial experience in practice contexts, the course aims to increase students’ readiness for interprofessional practice through both content and learning together. Action Research (AR), a well-established methodology for enhancing quality in learning and teaching, was used to make and evaluate systematic changes to the course. Through two AR cycles, we first gained an understanding of students’ preparedness for interprofessional learning using established scales and then used open-ended questions to elicit their experiences of learning together. We found that explicitly using three models of health provided an important scaffolding for promoting students’ identity formation as occupational therapists or social workers, in that it helped them to locate themselves and other profession with whom they might work. Strengthening students’ professional identity and understanding of the perspectives of other health professionals, as well as understanding health as a complex concept, is important for preparing them for the complexity and uncertainty that arises from working with other health professionals.

Keywords: Interprofessional learning, interprofessional education, preparing students for complexity of practice, scaffolding learning.