The Shared Case Study: An online activity for Interprofessional Teamwork

Natalie Curry, MSW

Natalie Curry, MSW

Natalie Curry, LCSW is a Clinical Instructor at Missouri State University’s (MSU) School of Social Work. She has been on the faculty with MSU for two years and prior to that was an adjunct instructor for MSU, Drury University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to entering academia, her practice background includes working with individuals who were homeless in various capacities, inpatient psychiatric care, and behavioral health consulting in primary care.  In this post, she writes about an online, interprofessional learning activity that she helped to develop and implement with colleagues at MSU You can follow Natalie on Twitter at @natalielcsw

Last fall, there was considerable interest around interprofessional education in the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) at Missouri State University (MSU), where I work. My colleagues and I believed that we were doing well at talking with our students about how much collaboration they would do in their careers with other healthcare professionals.  But we wanted to go further and figure out ways to provide the students real opportunities for interprofessional practice in their educational programs. That was part of the motivation for bringing together faculty from all 11 disciplines (such as social work, nursing, medicine and others) within CHHS, in addition to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy which was already in partnership with MSU. The other part of motivation was a growing recognition that interprofessional activities were no longer just encouraged in many of our disciplines’ accreditation standards; they were required.

Starting in Fall 2015, our committee to begin developing interprofessional educational activities for our students. We met monthly and eventually decided that it was not feasible to develop one activity, project, or experience that all students from CHHS could do together and still be  meaningful. We decided on four “menu items” that each discipline could choose to participate in, depending on the needs of their students. We wanted to have a mix of interprofessional activities, ranging from one-day experiences to projects that could be implemented over the course of a semester.

I became an accidental chair of the subcommittee working on a project called The Shared Case Study (I think that’s what happens when you speak first in a meeting). In this project, students from at least three different health-related disciplines work in teams on a shared case study. During the planning process, we concluded that we could do this as a purely online project, where the students, as part of in virtual teams, communicated through Discussion Boards on Blackboard. Admittedly, one of the first reasons we chose this format was convenience; by utilizing Blackboard for the project, we would not have to find time in all of our schedules for our students to meet together. Scheduling conflicts had already arisen as a major barrier to collaborating with other departments in our committee.  Some disciplines had students on campus only on certain days of the week or certain times of day. In both our BSW and MSW programs, we have many nontraditional students who are already juggling school, work, and family/home responsibilities so it felt appropriate to not add stress on their plates of coordinating meetings with other departments. A second reason for the online format also emerged during our discussions. There are many practice settings in healthcare where we do not get the benefit of face-to-face meetings when discussing patient care with other professionals. We may be relying solely on another practitioner’s note in the electronic medical record to understand their perspective, so this was a good opportunity for the students to practice that.

We piloted the project in Fall 2016 with an undergraduate social work course, a graduate-level occupational therapy (OT) course, and an undergraduate-level dietetics course. Each instructor introduced the project individually to our students, and we were met with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Consistently, the students were excited about the online format and those who have a strong healthcare interest were quickly engaged in the case which was about a woman who had experienced a stroke. It took quite a bit of behind-the-scenes coordinating with the OT and dietetics faculty to get a separate Blackboard course set up and form the interprofessional student groups.  Key to this process was our own interprofessional collaborating skills, and a universal recognition in the value of the project. We did one Discussion Board per week for four weeks and used class time to discuss the case and to process student experiences in the virtual team.

For grading, we realized almost immediately that we should have used the same rubric for the Discussion Board posts.  This was to ensure that all of our students had the same expectations for post length and content, so we made that change for future semesters. We all graded the Discussion Board posts for our own students, and all designed our own follow-up assignment for our students to do independently. For my social work course, I had the students write a reflection paper on their experience working as an interprofessional team.

One of the benefits of using an online format was that it was easy to add into existing courses. Another benefit was using a case from the CLARION Case Study Competition as those cases are written by an interprofessional group and can be used with both undergraduate and graduate students. The most significant challenge with the online format was that although the students initially felt like it was going to be a flexible way to complete the project (since they could do it at their own pace through the week); they really missed having in-person interactions with their peers. As instructors, we all visited each other’s on-ground classrooms to meet with their students, talk about any questions they had about the case, and we spent time reiterating the reasons for the online format in those discussions.

The Shared Case Study project is going to be implemented again in this semester (Spring 2017) with a graduate-level social work class, a graduate-level physician assistant studies class, a graduate-level physical therapy class, and a doctoral-level nurse practitioner class. We are excited to see how the improvements we made from the fall translate into better student learning and experiences this semester!

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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