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“The House that George Built”: One Grantee Shares Her Story

New York, NY

An excerpt from our Special Report of the President.

George himself encouraged my narrative medicine group and me to undertake serious work in interprofessional education at Columbia. We had for years been working with clinicians and patients to help reveal deep levels of illness and caring through narrative means—telling and listening to stories of illness, writing creatively about what we all suffer around sickness, making contact with one another across the chasms that divide the sick from the well, doctor from nurse, family members from one another. With George’s advice, we turned these methods to the goals of improving health care team effectiveness.

Even though our history as an institution is a rigidly siloed one, Macy support enabled us to come to see and appreciate one another’s perspectives across professions. With a steering committee of 10 senior and influential faculty members, we designed and co-taught credit-bearing seminars for students from all four schools addressing topics like health care justice and end-of-life care that “belonged” to no one school. Each year, there were more seminars offered. Nutrition, occupational therapy, pastoral care, and physical therapy joined our work. A Student Advisory Board helped us to plan freestanding lectures and film screenings.

When the Macy Foundation funding came to a close, the deans of the 4 schools chose to each contribute funds to continue our work. Now calling ourselves Columbia Commons IPE, we faculty and students have become a powerful team in our own right. There are now an increasing number of required courses in the curricula of several schools that combine their students for shared learning. We supported our students in their successful bid to join the Camden Coalition’s Interprofessional Student Hotspotting Learning Collaborative. An interprofessional group of Commons IPE faculty have developed a team research project related to obesity and weight bias, having achieved initial internal funding and now in gear for winning continued support. With support as a Macy Faculty Scholar, Deepthiman Gowda (one of the original Macy IPE faculty) tested the power of narrative training for development of effective health care teams in three ambulatory primary care sites in the Columbia system.

Perhaps the most visible sign of George Thibault’s influence over our institution as a whole was dramatized on April 5, 2018. Students from all our schools and programs know that day as “Columbia Commons IPE Day.” We made it happen that all courses for all schools are canceled for the entire day so that all students and faculty can join in lectures, workshops, seminars, and clinical simulations on team aspects of health care. Ten lectures and 75 small group sessions, taught by around 150 faculty of all professions and members of community health groups, were unrolled through the day. Each small group had learners from 9 programs (the Columbia School of Social Work participated as a prelude to possibly joining the Commons). The IPE Day culminated in theatre, dance, and musical performances by interprofessional student groups. It was an amazing, Olympic-sized enterprise that we Commons people pulled off.

This is the house that George built. Through his inimitable warmth, wisdom, and passion for team health care, we have come to see our own power, our own potential for transcending the siloes of old. Columbia is a better place today for the presence of George Thibault in our lives, our schools, and our images of our better selves.

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