East Tennessee State University students have started the first organization in the country for various health majors in an effort to improve teamwork among professionals and thereby patient care.
Erin Hankins, a fourth-year student in the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, helped form the Association of Interprofessional Healthcare Students after hearing a lecture last spring about the importance of health care professionals working together.
ETSU has five colleges in academic health sciences. The new student group goes by the acronym AIHS — pronounced “ace” — and draws ETSU members from the College of Pharmacy, the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, the James H. Quillen College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health and the Department of Psychology.
Hankins thought it would be a great idea to form an organization dedicated to educating each health sciences major about the other health-related divisions available at ETSU. Only one other school in the country has the breadth of health education that is offered at ETSU.
“Basically, the way our health care system is set up is each professional works in their separate ‘silo’ and we’re realizing that inefficiencies are happening,” Hankins said. “Information isn’t being accurately conveyed from the dentist to the pharmacist, or from the pharmacist to the nurse or the doctor. It’s much more effective if we work as a team to treat our patients. That way there is no disparities in their information.”
Health care requires not only doctors but typically pharmacists and maybe physical therapists and almost always nurses, so much of healthcare is already team-based anyway. Team-based care is a new way of thinking about health care in this country, so it makes sense to have an organization dedicated to helping professionals working in each different aspect learn about each other, Hankins said.
“I believe that as interprofessional education increases across the nation, of course, organizations like this one (AIHS) will increase,” Hankins said. “We’re really trying to set the standard here. We formed AIHS so that we have a framework built so we can start it at other universities that are interested.”
AIHS members will meet regularly but the organization is geared toward “learning-based events,” Hankins said.
Speaking events featuring various professionals, clinical skills competitions, clinical service events for the community will all be offered at AIHS meetings. Early next year the organization will offer students the chance to visit other health colleges and learn first-hand about the other health professions offered at ETSU.
More than 200 students attended the first meeting, held recently on the main campus.
According to ETSU, interprofessional, team-based practice has gained favor in recent years as a more patient-centered means of delivering treatment, and the Academic Health Sciences Center at ETSU is stressing the approach.
Hankins said it is becoming more common for healthcare professionals to focus on specialties, which makes interprofessional relationships all the more important.
“Not one person can know everything, so bringing all of these healthcare specialists together is really maximizing the benefits for the patient,” she said. “It needs to happen. Because the amount of information we’re required to learn is so immense and ever increasing, that we are all going to specialize more and more. And as we specialize we’ll be forced to develop these team-based models. So I think learning to communicate with other professionals is going to be a part of your resume that you need to be a successful employee somewhere.”
Hankins is hopeful that AIHS will add chapters on other college campuses. The group has an extensive website at www.aihs.info, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, @AIHS_.