Course brings nursing and medical students together

University Park, Pa. — The Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State’s School of Nursing have undertaken a new project to improve health care delivery. The units are collaborating to educate nursing and medical students together, in both clinical and classroom settings, with the goal of improving communication between the future health care professionals.

“The ability to communicate effectively is a key variable for providing high-quality care to patients,” said Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of the School of Nursing. “We know that, especially during crucial moments in health care settings, communication has a big impact on patient outcomes.”

The project combines two curricula centered on end-of-life health care, previously taught to medical and nursing students separately. In addition to connecting students from different professions, the new course will bring faculty from the School of Nursing and College of Medicine closer together, as the course will be taught by members from each unit.

“Training nursing students and medical students together should lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the unique role of both professions,” said Richard J. Simons, vice dean for educational affairs in the Penn State College of Medicine. “Effective functioning of health care settings depends partly upon the capacity of health care professionals to respect what others know and can do. The ability to collaborate with a team of health care professionals is a fundamental competency in our present and future health care environment."

The new course, pieces of which will be piloted to medical and nursing students in the fall, is one outcome of a conference School of Nursing and College of Medicine representatives recently attended, along with six other leading medical/nursing institutions. The conference, titled “Educating Nurses and Physicians: Toward New Horizons,” was held by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching from June 16 to 18 in Stanford, Calif. The purpose was to “develop new models of education that foster inter-professional training and curriculum reform to better prepare the future health care workforce,” according to a Carnegie Foundation press release.

Other schools attending the conference include Duke University, New York University, the University of Colorado at Denver, the University of New Mexico, the University of Minnesota and Vanderbilt University.

According to the Carnegie Foundation’s website, “These seven institutions were chosen because of the commitment of school leaders (deans, associate deans), and the commitment of both schools of nursing and of medicine to work together. They were also selected based on what they have already accomplished in inter-professional education and their commitment to future work.”

As a result of the conference, the College of Medicine and School of Nursing also developed a plan to create a high-level steering committee that will coordinate new initiatives to further increase interprofessional education between future nurses and doctors. This committee will be headed by Milone-Nuzzo and Simons.

This is the second major project the two academic units have jointly undertaken recently that is aimed at improving communication in health care settings. Their collaboration began in fall 2009 with a team-based learning approach, also funded by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation.

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Last Updated August 11, 2010