By Wendy Sarubbi | April 6, 2015 9:28 am

A 52-year-old man comes into the clinic with severe asthma attacks. He is a recent widower trying to raise his 15-year-old son in a mobile home infested with mold. He’s broke, depressed, overwhelmed and sick. How can tomorrow’s health leaders work together to help him?

The asthma patient was actually an actor who was the basis of an educational simulation at the UCF College of Medicine on March 31. During the session, UCF medical and social work students and University of Florida pharmacy students participated in the latest Interprofessional Education Workshop. The mission of the workshops is to teach healthcare students how to work together as teams for the good of their patients – and to bring more teamwork into the hospital and clinical settings of the future.

“When I was in medical school, my impression of a social worker was what I saw on TV,” said College of Medicine assistant professor Dr. Daniel Topping, who debriefed with students after the event. “When I got into my internship I was amazed at everything they could do. It’s great that you guys have to opportunity to stretch out and meet each other—because it’s important to know what each person is able to do.”

During the session, teams of diverse students entered an exam room in the medical school’s Clinical Skills and Simulation Center. They knew nothing about their patient and had to work together to learn his or her medical and psychosocial condition. They soon learned asthma was not the patient’s only problem.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all have something to offer, and this puts everything in perspective,” said UCF social work masters student Barbara Soltys. As she, a medical and pharmacy student asked their patient questions,  they learned that his trailer flooded a few months ago, and that’s when his asthma symptoms worsened. That information prompted Soltys to ask about possible mold problems in the home. The patient’s answer helped the healthcare students work together to brainstorm solutions.  “I can think about what’s going on in his body, but the social worker knows the programs that are available to help him, and the pharmacists know more about the medication,” said first-year medical student Trevor Mattox. “If it were me alone, the man may have walked away with just another inhaler. That wouldn’t solve the issue, because he would still have mold in his house.”

Each exam room in Clinical Skills is equipped with audio and video monitoring, so faculty members from the three programs sat outside – behind a one-way mirror – and used headphones to hear what the students were saying.  UCF Social Work assistant professor Dr. Tracy Wharton said she noted details of students’ behavior, from body language, to eye-contact to teamwork skills.  “In the different professional schools, students are socialized for different methods of communicating,” she said. By working in teams, they realize they need to share common terms and goals rather than stick to their school’s own language.  “The case was really set up in a way that they needed each other to get the full story,” she said.

The standardized patients followed a detailed script, that had them confused about the medications they use for asthma.  “The doctor has me on pro-something, or flo-something,” one of the patients told his team of students. The pharmacy students chimed in immediately, knowing the correct medicine.

Medical students often led the encounter because they have become familiar with patient interviewing during previous simulation sessions. But the social work students were more easily able to identify problems at home, and were more comfortable dealing with the standardized patient if he or she became emotional.

Social work master’s student Antonette Reeves’ patient began to cry as she described her financial hardships since her husband’s death. Reeves responded by comforting the woman, and explaining that there are government assistance programs that can help her get back on track. “This type of activity really takes into consideration the whole person, not just their physical health, but their environment, their stressors,” Reeves said. “It takes everyone’s discipline and brings that to the forefront.”

Students closed the simulation by debriefing with each other and faculty and creating a plan to address their patients’ needs. Their solutions included counseling for depression and financial assistance because the patient was underemployed as a part-time welder.

Previous Interprofessional Education Workshops were more classroom-based. “We want these sessions to continue to get more clinical in nature because the medical and pharmacy students will begin clerkships in their third year,” said UCF Assistant Director of Faculty Development Dr. Denise Kay. With more hands-on clinical experiences, students will be better prepared for the real world they are about to enter “because they will have teamwork skills to add to their toolkit,” she said.

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