High-Impact Teamwork Tips: Sept. 2, 2022

Tyler Reimschisel, Associate Provost for Interprofessional Education, Research and Collaborative Practice

Defining a term is a very uninspired and dull way to begin an article. Well, perhaps this article will end better than it begins…

For those of us who work in interprofessional education, we almost always start our lectures, workshops, manuscripts and conversations with a definition of interprofessional education. I especially like the definition offered by the World Health Organization (WHO): “Interprofessional Education (IPE) occurs when students or members of two or more professions learn with, from and about each other in order to enable effective collaboration and to improve health outcomes.” 

I think the typical connotation of this term is that it just applies to students since it focuses on “education.” However, you will note in the definition that it actually includes non-student “members” of a profession, including fully licensed clinicians and established practitioners. In fact, one of the expectations of all professions is that we pursue lifelong learning through continuing educational endeavors. I think that “interprofessional education” refers to any student or established professional, regardless of our level of education or experience. This is one of the hidden strengths of the WHO definition. 

Having said that, I think there is a significant deficiency in the definition as well. Most health care professionals work in interprofessional teams, yet those teams also include individuals who do not have formal degrees in a health profession. For example, in the clinical setting, I work with staff who do not typically have degrees in a health profession, and I consider those individuals essential to our ability to manifest high-impact teamwork. For this reason, I think that the WHO definition of IPE has a major deficiency because it unnecessarily excludes individuals without professional healthcare degrees who are critical members of our teams.

This is not merely an issue of semantics. In my team coaching, I have seen this distinction between professionals and non-professionals create fault lines within teams, especially since the distinction is frequently aligned with an implied, just-below-the-surface, value judgment of who the most important members of the team are. Let’s try to avoid equating degrees, salary levels, cultural status or leadership positions with the relative merit or value that any member of our team brings to our teams’ efforts. Regardless of their educational background or professional status, all members of our teams benefit from learning, career development, coaching and teamwork education. From this perspective, I think the WHO definition is too narrowly focused when it comes to the teams that I work in and coach.  

With this in mind, I would like to pivot to a brief discussion about a new certificate program that the Office of Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Education and Research will begin offering this year. The initiative is called Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Interconnections or I3 (“I cubed”). Through this initiative, our office will sponsor several extracurricular, voluntary experiences that will typically be open to faculty, staff and students throughout the Health Education Campus and across Case Western Reserve University as well as with residents and others in our neighboring communities. By offering these opportunities to a broad range of individuals, we hope to foster a deeper local community in which staff and students as well as faculty and community members learn with, from, and about each other. Any individual who participates in at least 15 hours of I3 experiences this academic year will receive an Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary certificate.

What types of opportunities will be included on the I3 list of experiences? Starting this month, we will sponsor an Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Dialogue series in which experts will speak on a topic of broad interest for 15 to 20 minutes, then participants will dialogue about the topic. The Dialogues will occur monthly at noon and will be offered in person in the Samson Pavilion as well as by Zoom. You can read more about this series in The Huddle

Later this month, we will begin an eight-week Interprofessional Leadership Seminar Series. Given the sensitive nature of many of the topics in this series, these seminars are only open to students. However, we plan to offer a comparable series for faculty and staff later this academic year.

In October, we will host an Art and Insight event at the Cleveland Museum of Art. We are also planning improvisation classes, simulations, teamwork seminars and much more. Watch the announcements in The Huddle and on the public-facing monitors in the Samson Pavilion to learn about additional I3 opportunities that will be offered in the future. 

Do you have an idea for an I3 session? We are hoping faculty, staff, students and our campus neighbors will volunteer to host events in the I3 program. Please contact me if you are interested in working with our office to create an interprofessional class, workshop, seminar, activity or another event.  

I would like to close with my favorite part of the WHO IPE definition: the purpose of educational experiences. Note that the goal of IPE is not self-oriented toward the individuals engaged in the educational interventions. Instead, the focus is on team functionality and the team’s goal of improving health outcomes. From my perspective, to achieve these lofty goals we need to engage every member of our team, regardless of their professional status. We also need to effectively partner with individuals who may not be part of the formal team unit but are nonetheless critical to the promotion of health and well-being—patients, clients, families, communities, neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations, places of worship, governmental agencies and many other entities. We hope the I3 initiative helps to bring all of these individuals together. 

The I3 initiative will be most successful when each and every one of you participates. I encourage you to attend the I3 events that appeal to you and offer to host your own. I am confident that when you do, you will learn with, from and about others who will inspire you, enhance your teamwork, improve your team’s impact, and broaden your perspectives in ways both unpredictable and cherished.