What can we achieve with Interprofessional Continuing Education?

“Interprofessional continuing education (IPCE) is when members from two or more professions learn with, from, and about each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes.” (ACCME, ACPE,ANCC, 2015)

In April, 2016, the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center sponsored a Leadership Summit for Jointly Accredited Provider organizations that offer interprofessional continuing education. Twenty-eight institutions participated, sharing challenges and strategies for implementing successful continuing education across health professions.

As one might expect, the challenges to interprofessional continuing education are not new: historically siloed approaches to professional learning, complex student and clinician schedules, hierarchical constructs of roles, power and decision-making, and ever-lurking and unrecognized biases. Fortunately, these challenges are not insurmountable if we remember that the patient and family are at the center of our endeavors to improve healthcare practice through cross-professional team development.

It is this commonality of purpose, approached from myriad points of view, that reinforces the commitment of educators to continue to promote and improve interprofessional, team-based continuing education.

When we come together as a team of teachers and educators, invested in working across professions to listen to others and learn new ways of understanding complex healthcare system dilemmas, we ‘see’ gaps in the way that patient care is delivered that we would be unlikely to recognize on our own. In fact, the more professions that contribute their perceptions of patient care, the more likely we are, as a team, to identify gaps and work together on strategic improvement. Most importantly, if we intentionally include the voices of the patient and family as our advisors and co-teachers, the better informed we will be about the real-world challenges that our educational efforts aim to address.

It will not be sufficient to bring pre-professional students together, even in the most authentic experiences. Those valuable learning opportunities will be insufficient if we, as healthcare providers, do not come together to create and support the environment in which patient care is delivered by interprofessional teams; teams that weave and integrate expertise and skill to ensure a seamless approach to patients’ needs.

The application of our uni-professional skills in a team-based manner is only the beginning of how interprofessional continuing education can enhance our mutual mission; imagine the synergies that we can achieve as a team of leaders and advocates, as a team of professionals who engage with health information data systems to solve process problems in our local clinical microsystems, as a team of providers who are bound by our shared mission of safe, equitable, highest-quality healthcare. Not only will we support and improve our students’ interprofessional growth, but also the environment in which they practice and our patients, clients, and families experience our mutual care.


Sue Farrell

Dr. Farrell graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in engineering, and earned her M.D. at Tufts University School of Medicine in 1990. Her clinical training was in emergency medicine and medical toxicology, both at The Medical College of Pennsylvania. She has worked in medical education at Harvard Medical School for almost 20 years, as the Director of Student Programs and the Emergency Medicine Clerkship at BWH for seven years, and as a course tutor and lecturer at HMS. She completed her Masters in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2008, with a focus on assessment and evaluation methods. Dr. Farrell has been a Rabkin Fellow in Medical Education, a Harvard Macy Scholar, and faculty and steering committee member of the Harvard Macy Educator courses. She is the Director of the comprehensive clinical skills OSCE examination at Harvard Medical School, and worked as an educator in the Partners Healthcare Office for Graduate Medical Education and a Program Director at Partners Healthcare International. At PHI, Dr. Farrell created and implemented faculty development programs in undergraduate, post-graduate, and interprofessional clinical curriculum and assessment methods. Her international work includes the development of resident-teacher programs in New Zealand, the creation of inter-professional programs in Singapore, the design of new post-graduate training programs, and physician curriculum development for a hospital system in India. Dr. Farrell’s interests are in curriculum development, methods for assessing clinical skills and program evaluation, and interprofessional faculty development related to clinical teaching and assessment skills. In 2016, she joined the MGH IHP as the Director of Continuing and Professional Development, responsible for the oversight and support of internal continuing education endeavors, as well as the development of new external professional development initiatives.

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