When students from different healthcare professions learn together, they’re better at working in teams once they graduate. Some 20 years of research and evidence shows such collaboration improves the quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare.

That’s why four universities in Washington’s Yakima Valley launched a project about five years ago to give their students experience in interprofessional education.

Called the Yakima Valley Interprofessional Practice and Education Collaborative (YVIPEC, pronounced wye-vee-EYE-peck), the collaboration includes nursing and pharmacy students from Washington State University, osteopathic medical students from Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, public health, paramedic and dietitian students from Central Washington University, and nursing and physician assistant students from Heritage University.

The team-based approach begins in classrooms, eventually flowing to simulation training and clinical experiences in the community.

Some of the activities are mandatory, some are voluntary, and hundreds of students have taken part.

“It’s so wonderful to see them have light bulbs turn on and realize what the other professions have to offer,” said Lisa Vickers, clinical faculty and the campus director of the WSU College of Nursing in Yakima. “Understandably students are focused on their own path, so realizing they’re going to be part of a holistic team is priceless.”

Activities include a simulation of the team discovering a medication error – something that students could encounter in their professional lives. “I like that one because it teaches the team that everyone has a hand in ensuring patient safety, just as they do in the quality of care,” Vickers said.

Another is an interprofessional clinical experience at the Yakima Union Gospel Mission. Medical, nursing and pharmacy students see a patient and present their initial findings to the patient’s healthcare provider, then they decide together on a treatment plan. The exercise helps students understand each profession’s strengths, said Laura Hahn, a senior instructor in the College of Nursing in Yakima.

There’s growing evidence that team-based care produces better patient outcomes. The YVIPEC partners are redesigning their data collection to try to identify if the project is making a difference in patient outcomes in the Yakima Valley, said Keith Monosky, executive director of interprofessional practice and education at PNWU.

Student surveys already show that the activities are useful.

Teresa Gonzalez was a WSU College of Nursing student in Yakima who participated in interprofessional education and was on YVIPEC’s student committee. Now an emergency room nurse at Toppenish Hospital, she said the experience is helping her on the job.

Coming up:

Success with Interprofessional Practice & Education: a faculty training opportunity

Friday, Nov. 15, 1-4 p.m.
WSU College of Nursing – Spokane, room 205

In‑house experts Angela Stewart and Anne Kim, both of the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Laura Hahn of the WSU College of Nursing, will discuss interprofessional education and practice and opportunities for the future.

“I think it made it a lot easier to approach other healthcare professionals and a lot simpler to communicate with them,” she said.

With colleges of medicine, nursing and pharmacy at WSU Health Sciences, the university will be looking to the Yakima project for inspiration in continuing to develop and expand its own interprofessional education programs.

“IPE is about taking our burgeoning experts, as individuals, and transforming them into expert teams,” said Daryll DeWald, vice president and chancellor for WSU Health Sciences, “Modern healthcare demands our students arrive in their professions with the values and skills related to interprofessional education.”

Logistically, IPE could be easier within WSU Health Sciences since the colleges are all part of the same university, said Angela Stewart, associate dean of the Yakima extension of the Doctor of Pharmacy Program at WSU. Having four universities involved in YVIPEC has made it challenging to coordinate and plan activities, but it also makes the collaboration unique among the growing number of interprofessional education programs, she said.

Next up, YVIPEC’s faculty, student and community stakeholder members are developing a core curriculum that will spread across all years for each of the programs. It incorporates classroom learning, a menu of elective activities, clinical training, and hopefully someday, continuing interprofessional education for working professionals.

“What we hear from students is that they want more,” Stewart said. “Students readily buy in to the philosophy behind why interprofessional education and interprofessional practice are so important. They really want to work as part of a team, particularly when they know teamwork will help them better take care of their patients in the future.”