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Interprofessional Education and Nursing: A Conversation with AACN’s Polly Bednash

Geraldine Polly Bednash, PhD, RN, FAAN is Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The AACN has worked closely with the Macy Foundation on several initiatives to facilitate and stimulate work on interprofessional education (IPE), including participating in the planning and implementation of our recent IPE conference in Alexandria, VA

Macy: Why is interprofessional education (IPE) important to the future of nursing?

Bednash: No individual nurse can be an isolated island in the delivery of care. We need to get past the competitive barriers of our professions and work collaboratively toward a common goal: To provide the best, safest, highest quality care that meets the patient’s needs.

Collaboration and teamwork is going to be even more important in the coming years. We’re going to see an influx of patients as our population ages and—if the Affordable Care Act is upheld—as Medicaid expands to cover more people. Resources will be stretched and everyone will need to be in the game, functioning at their highest capacity and level—not just nurses and physicians, but medical assistants, pharmacists and other health professionals too. If we work together better, understand each other better and value one another, we can diminish the chances of sentinel events and provide more effective care.

Macy: What challenges do nursing schools face with implementing IPE?

Bednash: IPE is a new way of operating. Everyone has been focused on producing the very best clinician—medical schools on producing the best physicians, nursing schools the best nurses, and so on. It has been a very one-dimensional approach. Now, our schools need to focus on producing very high quality nurses or physicians that can work collaboratively with other professionals. That requires a commitment from leadership and faculty to think differently and creatively.

Another challenge is finding good partners. Some nursing schools have natural partners within their institution’s educational and clinical settings; others must seek partnerships outside their institutions. We’re currently working with nursing schools that don’t have other health professions schools located in their institution, helping them make connections to other schools or seek out other learners in their community.

Macy: What is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing doing to advance interprofessional education?

Bednash: As part of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC), the AACN has worked with other health professions associations to set a mandate and direction for our individual professions to collaborate in a more productive way—to understand each other, communicate better, respect each other’s contributions to the delivery of healthcare and recognize that there are better outcomes for patients when you work together as part of a team. (Read the Core Competencies for Interprofessional Collaborative Practice). If the learner embeds these competencies, I believe they will stay with them throughout their career.

As we continue to push forward on reframing how health professionals are educated, all professional associations can help make the case for IPE, identify effective models of IPE, and provide tools and resources to help health professions schools implement IPE in their institutions.

Macy: Can you give an example of a nursing school that has a good IPE program?

Bednash: There is lots of interesting IPE work going on in nursing schools across the country. For example, New York University has brought together nursing and dental students to help them better understand the relationship between oral health and overall health, and see themselves as partners in the delivery of comprehensive patient care. Nursing students are learning how to screen patients for oral health problems, while dental students learn how to recognize patients’ healthcare needs and refer them for smoking cessation advice or primary care. Now, the New York University College of Nursing is leading a National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health to teach nursing students how to do oral assessments and educate patients about keeping teeth healthy.

Macy: What do we need to be thinking about next with IPE?

Bednash: A very important perspective that came out of the recent Macy conference on IPE was the need to focus on what happens in practice. We can work hard to educate new professionals on how to respect and value one another and work together, but when they enter practice, if there are no role models and no way to operate together, then they can’t apply what they’ve learned.

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