O. Ekmekci

The George Washington University (UNITED STATES)
The purpose of this paper is to use computer simulation to study how the integration of interprofessional components into health care curriculum impacts professional bias and collaborative behavior in care delivery teams comprised of a physician, a registered nurse, a physician’s assistant, a physical therapist, and a radiation therapist.

In a recent review of IPE literature (Thistlethwaite, 2012) forming a research agenda around health care curriculum has been deemed critical, as the effective development of IPE rests on our ability to “identify approaches for effectively graduating students with developed interprofessional capabilities” and to “review existing IPE programs for what has been learned and for what can be adapted to existing and new IPE initiatives” (p. 65). Achieving this level of awareness is imperative, if health care students are to truly understand professional boundaries; reflect critically on their relationship with other members of a health care delivery team; and become aware of stereotypes that reside in self and in others.

Agent-based Modeling (ABM) was used in this study to simulate 500 health care students, namely: 100 attending the MD (medical doctor) program; 100 attending the RN (registered nurse) program; 100 attending the PA (physician assistant); 100 attending the PT (physical therapy) program; and 100 attending the RT (radiation therapy) program of a university. In the simulation, coded using the NetLogo language (Wilensky, 1999), half of the students completed a curriculum with no IPE component and the other half completed the same curriculum in which 25% of the courses being offered had IPE components embedded. Each group of students was asked to randomly form 50 health care delivery teams consisting of a member from each of the five professions examined. The teams were then asked to treat a patient over the course of a week. Sociograms were used to plot the collaborative interactions amongst members of each team over the 7-day period (Mehra, Smith, Dixon & Robertson, 2006).

Findings indicate that both individual and group mean scores for professional bias were significantly lower (p<.05) for students attending curriculum containing IPE components, as compared to students attending curriculum without an IPE component. The individual and group mean scores for collaborative behavior were also significantly higher (p<.05) for students attending curriculum with IPE components. Additionally, sociograms constructed during the simulation clearly illustrated that a higher degree of collaboration was observed amongst members of teams who attended curriculum with IPE components, with greater potential for shared leadership.

Bringing health care students from different professions together in an interprofessional learning environment could reduce professional bias and promote the desire for more collaborative behavior, when these students find themselves in clinical settings where they have to work together as part of a health care delivery team. As literature suggests, less bias and greater collaboration in health care delivery teams, in turn, could result in improved health outcomes (Ducanis & Golin, 1979; Gariola, 1997; Horbar, Carpenter, Buzas et al., 2004; Wager, Wickam, Glaser et al., 2005).