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Team-based clinical problem solving: Setting the stage for the real world


Date: November 9, 2012
Media Contact: Ashley Wiggin,, 206-221-2456

Clinical training is designed to leave students prepared and ready for work with a multitude of patients and situations.  In response to that, a new learning event has emerged in the UW Health Sciences schools that allows students to experience some of the challenges of delivering health care to real people. On October 30th, students from the schools of nursing, pharmacy, medicine and the MEDEX physician assistant program came together to learn about one such scenario, giving them opportunities to bring their diverse skill sets to the table to work with a challenging patient.

IPE day 103012IPE day 103012"In most learning situations, students engage in case situations where they end up feeling like the hero, where they feel they have saved the patient, yet in real life, it is often not like that,” said Sarah Shannon, associate professor in the School of Nursing and a member of the team who developed the case. “As health care professionals, we work with people who have a right to make choices that we don't always agree with or believe are the best or most cost effective. These cases can split a team.  Yet they are the ones where we most need to pull together to insure that we are doing the best for the patient and to support each other in what can be a frustrating situation."

The most recent event in the UW’s Interprofessional Education (IPE)  program put students into action in small groups to craft a care plan for “Doris”, a patient who is admitted to the ER with difficulty breathing and leg swelling, symptoms of a common heart condition.  In addressing Doris’s health issues and creating a diagnosis, the team discovers she is a challenging patient to work with. Through a series of video clips featuring an actress playing “Doris” and her health care delivery team, Students learn more about the  challenges of trying to deliver care to patients like Doris, who was refusing her medication. As the students discussed Doris’s case, faculty members from nursing, medicine, pharmacy, social work and the MEDEX physician assistant program listened in on the group conversations and offered additional advice and insights into the case. Ultimately, the patient just wanted to leave the hospital to return home. The teams worked together to understand how to best support a patient in these challenging situations and were surprised to discover the depth of knowledge different groups brought to the case. 

Leaders in IPE training are confident that continued work on integrating interprofessional education into the classroom will help students learn how to work as teams once they enter the workforce. Giving students hands-on opportunities to understand health care delivery and patient needs enhances their skills in the real world.   

IPE Day 103012IPE Day 103012“Much of the care we provide as practitioners of health care is in teams, so it makes sense that we teach our students in the same environment,” said Mayumi Willgerodt, associate professor in Family and Child Nursing and one of the core team members who developed the IPE session. “If we don’t start integrating this type of learning into our curriculum, we aren’t really preparing the students for what they’ll experience in the real world. 

In the end, Doris was discharged from the hospital to her home, a decision that left some students surprised.  In final wrap-up discussions about the session, one student noted that this experience was a bit of a “reality check” for them and a chance to see what it’s like when a patient scenario didn’t go exactly as planned or hoped. The students praised teammates for their work and expressed respect for the breadth of knowledge and interest. Amy Tung, a pharmacy student, said she felt that “events like this prepare us to work in a team—and remind us that we aren’t alone in making tough decisions.”

Faculty were also impressed by the collaborative environment the session provided. A faculty member from the physician assistant program noted in the evaluations after the course “I think it was effective in demonstrating the importance of teams in patient care.” Another faculty from Social Work noted that it was “Nice to be together as an interdisciplinary team. It seems more like real life.”

Interprofessional Education is a growing trend in health care professions. Schools across the country have started to integrate team-based learning into their curriculum to help students understand how they can deliver better care as teams than individuals. A leader in IPE, the University of Washington has received extensive funding for development of IPE programs from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. This funding has included three major initiatives: a grant focused on the development and evaluation of simulation-based team training, a year-long faculty scholar’s program to develop faculty to deliver IPE, and a pilot faculty development program with the University of Missouri using a train-the-trainer model. All three grants helped to create the team for this event: Karen McDonough, associate professor of medicine;  Sarah Shannon and  Mayumi Willgerodt, both associate professors of nursing;  Jennifer Danielson, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy, and Linda Vorvick, senior lecturer  in the MEDEX physician assistant program."

IPE initiatives such as these will continue to bring students from across the health sciences to learn together and better prepare them to become practitioners and leaders in the health care environment of tomorrow.  The UW Center for Health Science Interprofessional Education, Research, and Practice is dedicated to teaching collaboration between health professionals. Learn more about IPE at

Read more about the IPE training session in UW Today.

The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently a top-rated nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 2 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2011, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service. For more information, visit