Getting different professions talking — and working — together, for the greater good

Interaction, health


Interdisciplinary teamwork in health care isn’t just a concept — it’s a reality. The constantly evolving nature of the U.S. health care system makes well-coordinated collaborations across medical professions a necessity.

At Washington University School of Medicine, students from multiple programs are actively building bridges among professions even before they begin their careers. The Health Professionals Student Leadership Council (HPSLC) was created by students in 2010 to promote and advance the understanding of collaboration among professions in providing effective patient care.

“HPSLC has three main goals,” explains group president Michele Ionno, a second-year student in the school’s Program in Physical Therapy. “The first is to improve communication among students from various disciplines. The second is to improve knowledge of what each discipline offers in the clinic. Third, and most importantly, we want to show students how working together improves patient care.”


Students from diverse training programs work together to answer questions posed by faculty during a recent case study presentation.

Service, team and community

The group includes Washington University students from the medical, occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiology and communication sciences, and Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences programs, and students from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.

Although HPSLC’s members are located on or near the Washington University Medical Center campus, opportunities for students to interact has been limited.

HPSLC is determined to change that. The group regularly brings members from all of the professions together at various academic and community outreach events. These include featured lunch talks, an activities fair, case study reviews, and an annual Community Service Day.

During case study reviews, faculty pose questions to interprofessional groups of students.

“Each round of questions represents a different setting for the patient as he or she moves through the health care system,” explains Gloria Grice, associate professor of pharmacy practice and associate director of experiential programs at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy (STLCOP). “It’s fun for the students because they are all very competitive and enjoy being challenged, but it’s not ‘high stakes’ like their actual coursework.”

“Each profession has its own language and frame of reference.”


Third-year medical student and former HPSLC president Elaine Khoong agrees. “All the students really enjoy the experience. Not only is it informative and instructive, it’s also synergistic with the formal curriculum in that it helps us become better prepared to apply what we have learned in the classroom to what we will eventually do in clinical practice.”

Community Service Day, held early in the academic year, is geared toward first-year students. It promotes collaboration among students in the different programs as well as community-building in the city of St. Louis.

“It’s really important for students to know how to interact as professionals,” says Lauren Lewis, a second-year student in the school’s Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences (PACS) and secretary of HPSLC, “but also on a more personal level to get to know one another. And it’s great to be welcomed into the community not only as clinicians, but as people who can give back to the city in which they live.”

In 2012, more than 120 students in teams of 10 worked with established community organizations at a variety of sites — from participating in a neighborhood cleanup with members of St. Louis Arc, a group that supports people with developmental disabilities, to painting and assisting with childcare at Lydia House, which provides transitional housing for abused women and children.

“For incoming students, Community Service Day is a great way to get to know St. Louis and the wonderful organizations that are established here,” says Casey Krauss, who is working on her master’s degree in deaf education. “I moved here from Michigan and have found that many students tend to stick to their own programs for socializing. But I feel that I met people who have become some of my greatest friends at Community Service Day.”

Community Service Day brings students together.

Script Your Future, a national campaign HPSLC recently participated in, gave students from all of the professions opportunities to meet with community members at more than 24 locations to address concerns about medication adherence and its importance in maintaining good health.

“Each profession has its own language and frame of reference,” says HPSLC vice president Sarah Cheatham Oberle, a second-year student in the school’s Program in Occupational Therapy. “We want our students to work with other practitioners to learn the language they speak and what they bring to patient care. We need to work together as a team to provide continuity of care for our patients, and we really believe that mindset needs to start in graduate school.”

Cheatham Oberle has been active in developing HPSLC’s shadowing program, which provides an opportunity for students to meet and observe practitioners from professions other than their own. While the list of participants is relatively small, the group is actively recruiting for additional mentors. Expanding the shadowing program and continuing to build on other successful initiatives are top priorities for HPSLC.

“Collaborative learning leads to teamwork in the real-world health care setting and, most importantly, improves patient care by increasing coordination of services,” says Alison J. Whelan, MD, senior associate dean for education. “Collaboration also has implications for the bottom line, in that more efficient care maximizes prevention, which may then decrease the burden on acute care facilities.

“Washington University School of Medicine students and their peers in HPSLC are prepared to meet the need for enhanced collaboration, and by embracing the need for teamwork across multiple professions, they are actively preparing to meet the health care challenges of the future.”