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School of Social Work + School of Nursing = Interprofessional course

. From left is Kathy Lay, Sara Horton-Deutsch, and Angela M. McNelis
. From left is Kathy Lay, Sara Horton-Deutsch, and Angela M. McNelis View print-quality image


July 6, 2012

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The class in Room 2106 in the Education/Social Work Building at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis looked like any other summer school course meeting that day. Except it wasn’t.

The students in the class were the first to take an inter-professional course offered by the Indiana University Schools of Social Work and Nursing, bringing together graduate social work and psychiatric nursing students who are specializing in mental health and addiction issues.

“What makes this unique is that social work and nursing students are side by side,” said Kathy Lay, an associate professor of social work. Lay is one of three professors who came up with the idea for the class. The other two are Sara Horton-Deutsch, an associate professor in the Department of Environment for Health, and Angela M. McNelis, an associate professor in psychiatric/mental health nursing in the School of Nursing.

“Some of the assignments are completed collectively in groups, with both social work and nursing students. So what we are really trying to do is get them accustomed to collaboration and collegiality among the different disciplines,” Lay said.

It is an idea that can truly impact mental health practice as the students graduate and pursue their professional careers. “Psychiatric nurses and social workers provide the vast majority of the mental health services in the country,” Lay said.

“What we are trying to do is break down some of the barriers practitioners get into in the real world of practice where they may say, ‘This is my domain and this is your domain. We really don’t have anything to do with each other because we were trained differently.'” Instead, Lay said, they want to foster an attitude of “how can I collaborate with you on behalf of our client.”

“Interprofessional education is about good communication. It’s about team work and collaboration, shared values, it’s about roles and responsibilities,” Horton-Deutsch said. “There is such a hierarchy in health care. We get into these very paternalistic ways of being with one another and with patients,” she said. “How are we going to not be that way with patients when we are that way with one another?”

While the idea of having interprofessional classes sounds good on paper, pulling it off is not always easy, McNelis said. “The barriers around scheduling I will tell you is the number one reason interprofessional education isn’t where it needs to be. Just the practicality of scheduling makes it very challenging.”

Lay said it was the personal relationships developed between the three faculty members that helped make this class a reality. Lay had been involved with the other two professors on a grant and several other collaborative projects, and all three are members of FACET. “We realized how much in common we have about our teaching style and our philosophies related to the treatment of mental health.”

They realized, “we should really do a class together,” Lay said, and they began discussing the idea of such a class early in 2011.

Beyond the course that began in Summer 1 and carried over into Summer 2, they want the students to be placed in internships together this fall. To test that idea, they attended an interdisciplinary staff meeting at Midtown Community Mental Health Center in Indianapolis.

The meeting included psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and counselors. All were excited about the concept of pairing up nursing students with social work students to work together.

Once the three professors decided to create the class, the next worry was whether enough students would sign up for it, Lay said. After all, the class was new, and she worried whether students would get the information about the course that they thought they should have. Instead of too few students, they ended up having some 30 students enroll.

The course is a hybrid of online and face-to-face classes. In their first class, the students discovered how alike their two programs actually were. Horton-Deutsch asked the students to draw three circles. In one of the circles they were to write down what nurses do, in another circle social work students were to write what they did and in the middle they were to write what students from both disciplines do. The overlapping circle was completely filled, Horton-Deutsch said.

They realized about the only thing nurses did that social workers didn’t do was prescriptive authority and that social workers had a broader sense of the system in the community. “It was more about degree than differences,” Horton-Deutsch said.

Even medication was about degree, because social workers needed to know and understand the medications as well. “What they realized is that 75 percent of what they do is really similar,” she said.

The course will continue to be offered in the spring and summer semesters.