Interprofessional Education

Interprofessional and intersectoral work are vital to public health practice, and CEPH requires its schools and programs to evaluate students’ competency in this area. In public health, we define interprofessional work as collaboration and coordination with professions outside the professional disciplines of public health. In other words, it is not epidemiologists collaborating with public health policy professionals but epidemiologists collaborating with other professions that have their own distinct identities and specialty knowledge. When considering interprofessional education (IPE), many faculty and staff think of professions like physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and physical therapists.

However, in public health practice, collaboration goes far beyond the health sciences, involving sectors like education, urban planning, food science, and engineering and requiring collaboration with housing authorities, police departments, business leaders, and beyond.

It is important for public health professionals to understand the roles and specialty knowledge and skills of relevant professionals and how they contribute to overall public health goals. Of course, you cannot address every profession or every scenario in class, but teaching with as broad a perspective as possible is important.

While some of our accredited units seamlessly incorporate IPE into their curriculum using school and/or university level resources, we understand that not all units have the same structures in place. This can lead to challenges in addressing the MPH foundational competency 21 requirements. We recently revised the language of this competency with the new 2021 Criteria, hoping to inspire units to explore innovative approaches. Below, we present examples that go beyond the traditional health science-focused group work on a case study. We hope that you will find these examples helpful and urge you to explore innovative approaches when evaluating your IPE requirements!

  • At one unit, all students participate in a program planning course. Students are required to research another non-health sector profession with whom they could collaborate on their program. Areas of study may include finance, international relations/government, business/NGOs, law, technology, and entrepreneurship. After doing readings in an area of study that will enable success for their project, each student will give an elevator pitch to an expert mentor in that external professional area, interact with the mentor in small groups about their project, and explicitly integrate perspectives from the expert and readings into their project design.
  • One unit invites a panel of non-public health professionals to present real-life case studies of a public health (related or adjacent) issue they faced in their job. Students are assigned to teams. Each student team attends 3 different presentations by non-public health guest professionals in a 3-hour class session. Every 50 minutes, student teams move to a new classroom to meet with a different guest. Each guest provides background information about their professions (such as law enforcement, politics, social work, criminal justice) & describes an important problem (such as homelessness, human trafficking, civil unrest, & pandemic-related issues other than health) they have encountered, which did not appear to have an obvious solution.

Each student group interacts with the guest speaker as they formulate a solution to the problem by integrating their current public health training & knowledge in concert with the guest speaker’s perspective & information. The guest speaker provides constructive feedback to the student group. The goal is to have a conversation on the potential benefits, feasibility & possible negative downstream effects of the prescribed solution.

Following this discussion, the guest speaker relays the solution that was employed to address the problem & students pose questions regarding the ‘real’ solution. Students individually complete the Interprofessional Integration Assignment that summarizes knowledge gained from the other professions/sectors. Students are graded on their individual submission via an assessment-specific rubric.

  • Another unit addresses different professional perspectives through the service-learning project conducted with the local United Way wherein students serve as Community Investment Committee (CIC) grant reviewers.

Students receive training in the classroom in advance of this process and are also trained by the United Way before being placed on interprofessional teams of area professionals to complete the grant review process. This service-learning represents a high value learning experience that reinforces best practices in obtaining public health funding through competitive grants and the importance of clearly formatted program planning and evaluation, while providing a window to experience different leadership styles and different professional perspectives in real time. Students are assessed on their ability to bring together different perspectives to advance health, by how well they collaborated on their grant review panel (scored by each external panel chair), and on how they are able to connect those experiences with other colleagues to the outcome of their panel’s work in their final, individual paper that reflects on specific principles of collaboration across professions or sectors.

  • One unit requires all MPH students to complete a photovoice collage project. As part of this assignment, students conduct brief interviews with a professional from a sector other than public health. Students ask their interviewee to respond to their collage and to comment on how their profession or sector impacts public health. These findings are summarized in the students’ final reports.
  • Our last example ties in health equity and interprofessional collaboration. This program has students conduct an interview with a professional employed in a field related to health (“Think upstream social determinants, e.g. education, employment, criminal justice, housing… Note: interviews with individuals working directly in healthcare will not be accepted.”) and probes the professional’s experiences serving/working with people living in a rural region. Students select the questions posed; however, the interviewee must address their observations regarding rurality, social determinants of health, health, and health risks for people living in their region. All students write a 4-5-page paper on their observations regarding social determinants and health in the region.

Written by: Cara Damico Smith, MPH