News and Commentary Macy Faculty Scholar Kelly Karpa on Interprofessional Education

Kelly Karpa, PhD, RPh, of Penn State College of Medicine discusses her new interprofessional program to teach medical and nurse practitioner students about medications.

What are you working on as a Macy Faculty Scholar and why is it important?
In health professions schools we do a great job teaching drug facts to students, but we may not always do a great job teaching them how to apply pharmacology knowledge to patients in the real world who may be taking many different drugs, have drug-related problems, or have literacy issues.

My IPE project will bring medical, nurse practitioner, and hopefully pharmacy students together to think more critically about medications and to communicate better with patients about their medications.

What are you hoping to change and how did you come across this issue?
In a nutshell, I want to teach students to think more critically about medications. Currently, they just aren’t doing so.

In a different course, a couple years back, I put together some patient cases to teach from. In these cases, patients had experienced complications from the medications prescribed to them after being discharged from the hospital. In some of the cases one or more of the drugs was missing from the discharge order, and in others the dosages were wrong or the patient was taking meds at the wrong time or without food when it should have been with food. I tasked the students with finding the medication-related problems; each time the students went straight for drug interactions as the root cause. They often completely missed the big picture: They caught the interactions, but missed about 75% of the other medication-related problems. They didn’t know how to look for those things and I want to change that.

How will your program be designed and where are you in implementing it?
My Macy project involves bringing students together several times during the academic year for a curriculum that will total about 18 hours over six months. We will do hands-on learning exercises with students from several disciplines and they will be solving real life problems with standardized patients through a team-based teaching model.

The plan is to pilot this next fall at our State College campus. Penn State just launched a new regional medical school there, and there’s already a relationship between the NP program and the medical school. Penn State doesn’t have a pharmacy program so I am working to draw in students from other schools as well. I have communicated with all the pharmacy programs in the state and many are very excited to get on board.

Looking ahead, what are your ultimate goals for this project?
Drugs are one of first things we reach for when caring for patients, so we must do a better job of vertically integrating pharmacology training into health professions education. And it can’t be just facts. We have to teach students how to apply the facts to patient care.

My ultimate goal is to have this pilot be successful and scale it up for other universities, residency programs, and even under-served areas.

I also want to showcase the importance of IPE when piloting this initiative. When I work with different kinds of students on patient cases, I can predict that the pharmacy student will automatically think about medication, the medical student will be looking for a new diagnosis and the nurse practitioner will be communicating with the patient to find the extenuating circumstances. All of these things are important, and this project will hopefully demonstrate how vital it is that health professions students learn from each other, learn to work together, and learn what skills and expertise each profession brings to the table.

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