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The Benefits of an Interdisciplinary Collaborative Learning Experience: The Student Perspective on Outcomes



Increasingly, human service professionals require knowledge from other disciplines to develop, and implement comprehensive treatment/intervention plans. Collaborative decision-making and information sharing among the helping professions ensures that consideration is given to all of the factors affecting intervention and outcome and is a skill that is most effectively learned during pre-professional training. The Student Interdisciplinary Day project is a series of didactic and group learning experiences designed to promote the pre-requisite skills for effective collaboration. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively examine student perspectives on the benefits of participating in this interdisciplinary learning experience. Graduate students (n=16) from clinical psychology, education, social work and physical therapy were selected to participate in a focus group. From the data, the following themes emerged: (1) increased understanding of the professional roles of other disciplines; (2) better awareness of professional role overlap; (3) an appreciation for the importance of collaboration; (4) understanding that conflict can arise within interdisciplinary teams; (5) realizing the importance of leadership; and (6) the development of increased confidence in one’s ability to collaborate. The findings reveal the importance of including opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration in graduate school curriculums.
The International
Volume 4, Number 8
The Benefits of an Interdisciplinary Collaborative
Learning Experience: The Student Perspective on
Robert Wellmon, Barbara Gilin, Linda Knauss
and Margaret Linn
First published in 2009 in Champaign, Illinois, USA by Common Ground Publishing LLC
© 2009 (individual papers), the author(s)
© 2009 (selection and editorial matter) Common Ground
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ISSN: 1833-1882
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The Benefits of an Interdisciplinary Collaborative
Learning Experience: The Student Perspective on
Robert Wellmon, Widener University, Pennsylvania, USA
Barbara Gilin, Widener University, Pennsylvania, USA
Linda Knauss, Widener University, Pennsylvania, USA
Margaret Linn, Widener University, Pennsylvania, USA
Abstract: Increasingly, human service professionals require knowledge from other disciplines to de-
velop, and implement comprehensive treatment/intervention plans. Collaborative decision-making
and information sharing among the helping professions ensures that consideration is given to all of
the factors affecting intervention and outcome and is a skill that is most effectively learned during pre-
professional training. The Student Interdisciplinary Day project is a series of didactic and group
learning experiences designed to promote the pre-requisite skills for effective collaboration. The purpose
of this study was to qualitatively examine student perspectives on the benets of participating in this
interdisciplinary learning experience. Graduate students (n=16) from clinical psychology, education,
social work and physical therapy were selected to participate in a focus group. From the data, the
following themes emerged: (1) increased understanding of the professional roles of other disciplines;
(2) better awareness of professional role overlap; (3) an appreciation for the importance of collabor-
ation; (4) understanding that conict can arise within interdisciplinary teams; (5) realizing the import-
ance of leadership; and (6) the development of increased condence in one’s ability to collaborate.
The ndings reveal the importance of including opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction and
collaboration in graduate school curriculums.
Keywords: Interprofessional Learning, Interdisciplinary Practice, Interdisciplinary Collaboration,
Human Service Professions, Collaborative Learning
MANY AUTHORS HAVE written about the role of interdisciplinary teams in
nding effective solutions to the health, social, educational, and emotional
problems faced by those receiving care (Bokhour, 2006; Boyle & Moskowitz,
1996; Manser, 2009; Rodin, Saliba, & Brummel-Smith, 2006). When professionals
work collaboratively, the quality of care provided improves. The interdisciplinary approach
to service delivery integrates multiple perspectives (Pirrie & Hamilton, 1999) that result in
more effective and efcient service delivery. Given the increasing need for interdisciplinary
collaboration in practice, it is essential that university students learn the skills necessary to
work effectively with other professionals as part of their training. Therefore, it is important
that professional and graduate programs provide opportunities for students to gain the
knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to function effectively on interdisciplinary teams
in the workplace.
The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
Volume 4, Number 8, 2009,, ISSN 1833-1882
© Common Ground, Robert Wellmon, Barbara Gilin, Linda Knauss, Margaret Linn, All Rights Reserved,
The benets of multidisciplinary training have been detailed (Allen-Meares, 1998; Mc-
Callin, 2001; Pirrie & Hamilton, 1999). There is a direct correlation between a satisfactory
experience of learning with other professional groups and the ability to work together as a
team in practice. Multidisciplinary education forces professionals to acknowledge each
other’s contributions, and to see beyond the boundaries of their own discipline. Another
benet is that professionals in training learn to “identify and articulate their own role” while
building condence in their own abilities as professionals (Pirrie & Hamilton, 1999). In
contrast, the lack of interdisciplinary training may perpetuate misunderstandings and stereo-
types about professional approaches and their values (McCallin, 2001).
Many authors have described factors that make up a successful interdisciplinary team that
should be included in a comprehensive training program (Choi & Pak, 2007; Patel, Pratt, &
Patel, 2008; Weaver, 2008). Examples include understanding the roles of other team members,
good interpersonal communication skills (McCallin, 2001), a solid professional identity
(Mattessich & Monsey, 1992) and having a clear understanding of the distinction between
their own and their collaborating professionals’ roles (Bronstein, 2003).
Much of the current literature that examines the effectiveness of interdisciplinary learning
has focused on using surveys to document changes in students’ attitudes toward collaboration.
Taking the challenge put forth by Smith and McCann (2001) that “innovative interdisciplinary
programs require innovative interdisciplinary approaches to assessment”, we chose to use
qualitative inquiry to explore the impact of our interdisciplinary learning experience by al-
lowing students to craft their own narrative of the experience. The purpose of this study was
to qualitatively examine the perspectives of key informants from four disciplines – education,
clinical psychology, physical therapy, and social work. We sought to answer the question
“How would students from four different disciplines describe the benets of participating
in an interdisciplinary learning experience?”
The Student Interdisciplinary Day Experience
All students in this study participated in a structured, three part learning experience taught
and facilitated by faculty from four disciplines in the Widener University School of Human
Service Professions. The purpose of the learning experience was to help prepare students to
work effectively as part of a multidisciplinary team in different elds of human service. The
rst of three sessions was an interactive, didactic component featuring a 45 minute discussion
led by four faculty facilitators who collaboratively explored the importance and value of
interdisciplinary practice, discipline-specic role identity and values, the professional roles
and values of other team members in the school, and the importance of collaboration, conict
resolution and leadership. This introductory session was followed by the second session
where discipline-specic information about the client’s prior and current level of social,
physical, cognitive and psychological function is provided and the students work with others
in their discipline to develop a preliminary plan of care and discussion points that will be
shared during the nal phase of the learning experience.
The third and nal session was the actual “Student Interdisciplinary Day” that required
students to participate in a simulated team conference. The purpose was to provide a venue
for an interdisciplinary discussion that leads to the formulation of a plan for returning Susan,
a 13 year old student with a spinal cord injury, to the classroom setting. Events surrounding
the injury compromised family function and dynamics and strained existing relationships in
the home, which along with child specic issues related to impaired physical, cognitive and
psychological functioning due to the accident, created the challenge that must be addressed
by her interdisciplinary team. The team’s assigned task was to decide how to achieve a suc-
cessful transition back to the classroom setting.
This study was approved by the Widener University Institutional Review Board. Sixteen
students were selected by convenience sampling to participate in a focus group. Study parti-
cipants were graduate students enrolled in one of four professional programs of study in the
School of Human Service Professions at Widener University, which is a major Metropolitan
University located in Chester, Pennsylvania. All had, at a minimum, completed 2 years of
coursework toward receiving their respective professional practice degree. Professional
practice experience varied among the participants with most completing at least one, full-
time internship in their specic area of practice. The volunteers were assigned to one of two
focus groups that were each composed of 8 students with all disciplines equally represented.
Data Collection
To best understand the perspectives of the participants,a qualitative descriptive design, using
focus groups was utilized for this study. While aggregate written survey responses provide
one level of understanding, additional insights into student learning and perception of inter-
disciplinary practice was desired by the researchers, who were also the core faculty. Focus
groups can provide a venue for informants to gather and share their experiences (Morgan,
Krueger, & King, 1998). The transformative experience of reliving the events of the day
with others who had the same experience was thought to provide a depth of understanding
that was not possible with only reviewing written survey and feedback data (Bowling, 2002;
Freeman, 2006). The 16 key informants had the opportunity to build on one another’s re-
sponses and explore ideas that may not have been considered when only completing a written
survey (Krueger, 1994). Thus, participants are not bound by concerns regarding how much
time was required to compose written responses and therefore, the approach helped to dis-
cover the range of experiences.
Two focus group sessions, each consisting of eight students, were facilitated by faculty
experienced in conducting focus group research but not involved with Student Interdiscip-
linary Day. The focus group sessions were conducted on the campus of the university in a
conference room that comfortably accommodated eight people and the moderator. Six open-
ended guiding questions were used for the semi-structured group interview. The focus group
session started with the moderator establishing the purpose of the gathering. Throughout the
session, the moderator remained neutral, kept the discussion focused and did not offer
opinions nor become involved in the discussion. The participants were allowed to control
the ow of information during the sessions which lasted between 60 and 90 minutes. Follow-
up and clarifying questions were asked at points during the discussion to encourage in depth
exploration of topics mentioned by the participants. The group discussion was audiotaped
and later transcribed verbatim for analysis. The accuracy of the transcription was checked
by a second person not associated with the study who reviewed both the audiotape and the
Data Analysis
Using a constant comparative approach, data from the focus group sessions were rst analyzed
and coded for key themes or ideas by each of the four researchers who separately read and
re-read the verbatim transcripts as part of the open coding process (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Each researcher independently established their own open coding system for key ideas and
themes believed to be contained in written focus group transcripts. Notes were hand written
in the margins of the transcripts. After independently establishing a system of open codes,
the researchers met to compare and discuss the codes or themes that were believed to be
present in the focus group transcripts. Codes, individually generated and used by each of
the researchers to identify broad themes, were further rened, re-categorized and dened
through group discussion and consensus building. The relationships between the themes
were identied as part of the coding process.
Once consensus was achieved on the major codes and themes, the transcripts were then
re-read and coded a second time using the new axial codes that were generated through an
iterative consensus building process. The process of coding and discussion of the ndings
was continued until consensus was reached among the researchers that all of the major themes
had been adequately identied and appropriately categorized and dened.
From the data, the following six key themes emerged about student’s perceptions of learning
arising out of the Student Interdisciplinary Day experience: (1) a better understanding the
professional roles of other team members and an emergent realization that a knowledge gap
exists with regard to understanding the professional roles of others in the human service
professions; (2) an increased awareness of professional role overlap among some of the
disciplines; (3) a found value for the importance of collaboration in providing care; (4) an
understanding that conict and competition can arise when professionals collaborate; (5)
development of an appreciation of the importance of leadership; and (6) the development
of a sense of professional competence and condence in one’s own ability to contribute to
the team (Table 1).
Increased Understanding of the Roles of Other Team Members. The focus group data
clearly indicated that students acquired an increased awareness of the roles played by the
other human service professions, which was an important interdisciplinary learning objective.
Prior to the learning experience, students did not have a complete understanding of the roles
assumed by other disciplines. There was evidence of this lack of understanding in comments
from students in clinical psychology:
“Having a representative from physical therapy was useful because I had not really
worked with physical therapists before and it provided useful insights.”
“I learned what physical therapy does, a little about what educators do and a little what
social worker does but I’m still very vague about it.”
One informant from physical therapy, in expressing surprise that other disciplines did not
fully appreciate the role of the physical therapist on the team, also revealed her own know-
ledge gap: “I did not realize that the other professions knew very little about the role of
physical therapy in a child’s transition from home to a school setting. It was also very inter-
esting because I thought clinical psychology would have more tests and social work would
deal with the family more. But it was the other way around.”
Evidence of improved understanding of the professional roles of other disciplines was
suggested by the following comment that the day “… informed us more about what each
profession does. Some people don’t really know that it would be benecial to know the
services offered (by other professions).” That same student commented that it “would be
benecial to each discipline to know about other disciplines and what they kind of do, like
more in depth.”
All of the students in the focus group could identify some of the professional roles assumed
by other members of the team. Physical therapy was thought to be involved with “rehabilit-
ation”, “strengthening the client”, having a “hands on role in the classroom” and providing
“a lot of information about the client’s functional ability”, while the clinical psychologist
dealt with “cognitive and emotional issues.” Clinical psychology was able to provide inform-
ation “regarding current intellectual functioning, emotional functioning and the impact of
trauma” and “helped inform the treatment planning in terms of the needs that Susan has
emotionally as well what she is capable of cognitively.”
Education was identied as having a role in “academics” and “could offer advice regarding
what is realistically available from the school system.” In addition, “education brought in
aspects of school criteria and school curriculum.” One informant felt that “education played
a huge role because they knew what it is like in school for Susan and they will have had the
most interaction with Susan.”
Social work “represented the family’s needs” and “focuses on the many family member
dynamics.” Their value to the team was their capacity to understand the “many resources to
pull from to get resources” for the client. One student from social work remarked during the
focus group that “physical therapy does not have as much contact with the family members
of clients as would be considered ideal by other professions”, which indicates an understand-
ing of the limitations in the professional scope of practice and training of other disciplines.
One student “thought social workers were the mediators of group. They seemed to be more
prepared to speak to the parent and found a middle ground between what the medical side
wanted and what the family wanted.”
Discovery of Professional Role Overlap between Disciplines. Overlap between discip-
lines involves the realization that two different human service professions can provide sim-
ilar services. Of the disciplines participating in Student Interdisciplinary Day, role overlap
was reported to occur most frequently between clinical psychology and social work because
both can provide mental health services and psychological support to the client. An informant
from clinical psychology expressed “surprise at the amount of overlap with social work in
terms of providing counseling.” At the same time, a comment by another informant suggests
that those disciplines in which there is role overlap approach the client from differing per-
spectives: “I was surprised by how much overlap there was between clinical psychology and
social work but we came at it (the clinical case) from wildly divergent points of view.” One
informant reported that this led to role confusion: “There was confusion on counseling issues
and whether or not there would be a social worker or psychologist present in the school.
There was no resolution.”
The data suggests a lack of awareness by some informants that some disciplines can
provide similar or competing client services. Who provides the services requires negotiation
and collaboration. Interdisciplinary role overlap can lead to conict which was an observation
reported by an informant in physical therapy who indicated that “there was conict between
clinical psychology and social work regarding who does counseling.” In contrast, the follow-
ing comment by a clinical psychology student provides another perspective on role overlap:
“(there was) a lot of overlap between clinical psychology and social work in what we do but
we come from different perspectives, the individual versus the system. I enjoyed the input
from both sides.” While one of the informants appreciated the differing perspectives, the
following statement by another informant indicates the potential for difculty associated
with role overlap:
“Social work and clinical psychology chose to separate the work by social work dealing
with the whole family adjustment. Sometimes it seemed as if they still struggled with
their overlapping roles.” It was “difcult for social work and clinical psychology because
each wanted to be responsible for counseling aspect of intervention.”
Developing an Understanding of the Importance of Collaboration. This theme was
dened to include those expressions of the belief that a better understanding of the client
would be gained and the nal plan for the client would be improved as a result of a collab-
orative process. A comment from a student in clinical psychology indicated that it was “in-
formative to learn what other disciplines did exactly and what they contributed to (the) stu-
dent’s plan. I learned about physical therapy and realized how important/helpful their
knowledge is when dealing with any physical impairment issues.”
Addressing the notion of the importance of collaboration, an informant from clinical
psychology remarked, “I really liked working with physical therapy students. I gained a lot
more information about what they do. I also found them easy to work with and thought that
they really helped to inform the psychologists and other disciplines about how to better our
work. They also seemed very interested in gleaning useful information from psychology.”
The student went on to add, “My group was good about listening to different opinions and
considering them. People seemed to appreciate different perspectives.”
The previous comments indicate the value of including opportunities for interprofessional
learning prior to graduation. When provided with an opportunity to work with and learn
from other disciplines, ways of viewing the client could be expanded, as suggested by an
informant from social work who reported that “they talked about terms, practices and
tests/scales that I was not familiar with and that they were able to explain. They presented
issues I would not have thought of. I never worked with physical therapy before so that was
especially helpful and interesting.” One student in the focus group went on to further remark
that, “each discipline was able to give a unique perspective based on their education and
experiences in their particular roles. Each discipline’s unique perspective provided (a) more
well rounded and holistic solution to the challenges at hand.” Another informant felt that
individual disciplines “get too caught up in our own little physical therapy, education, social
work, or clinical psychology worlds to realize how much we can offer to the group.”
Competition and Conict with the Group and Differences of Opinion Regarding
Group Function. Conict over how to best manage the client’s care and how to run the
meeting was a theme mentioned by some of the informants. One informant remarked, “I felt
like there was a constant power trip going on with everybody.” Another informant “felt like
everyone was kind of ghting for air time and ghting arose if one discipline made a sug-
gestion that the other discipline would think wasn’t important.” Conict within a team can
arise for a number of reasons.
Group inghting may arise from the importance that some students may place on their
knowledge as echoed by an informant from social work who thought that “each role is an
important aspect of the team. Each individual feels their input is critical and wants to be
heard.” Feelings related to the capacity of team members to be heard may be the source of
conict expressed by some informants.
Ingrained discipline-specic perspectives could also be the source team conict particularly
when there is role overlap. One student thought that conict arose in her group from differing
professional perspectives, “…as clinical psychology looks at the person from the inside out
and social work from outside in”, which could lead to the creation of disparate and strongly
held opinions about how to provide care.
From the data, team conict can arise when differences of opinion about client management
occur. An informant from education observed that “some of the other disciplines wanted to
focus more on the family than others who focused more on Susan.” A physical therapy in-
formant thought “some disciplines took a more submissive role feeling the student (Susan)
should not be rushed back to school while others saw it as necessary.” The notion that there
might be disagreement about outcome was also present in the following comment, “some
social work and clinical psychology students felt that she (Susan) should stay home and from
the physical therapy perspective there was no question that she should go back (to school).”
While one informant from education indicated that even in a situation where there is con-
sensus, conict can still arise. “All of the disciplines had the same goal of getting Susan
back to school full-time. Some differences (arose) about the best approach to get her in
school.” This was a theme echoed by an informant from social work, “Each discipline wanted
different needs to come rst. All disciplines seemed most interested in how their ‘expertise’
could be used rst.”
Preconceived notions about other disciplines and who should and can be team leaders
contributed to team conict in some groups. A social work informant noted that “one big
surprise was that they anticipated arrogance on the part of clinical psychology students and
experienced none. Other social work students experienced what they anticipated.” In addition,
another person commented that “I was surprised when the social work student said how she
went into it expecting the clinical psychology members to be difcult to work with.” On
leadership, one student was frank in indicating that “I don’t think that the discipline that was
in charge of the meeting should have been. I believed that the educator should run the
meeting.” Finally, one informant thought that “the evening did not turn out as interesting as
I expected. The people from ___ attempted to run the show and left little for the other discip-
lines. (They) did not give the other disciplines an arena to express their views.”
The inability to resolve differences within the context of the mock conference hampered
group functioning as suggested by a student from social work who said, “differences were
not necessarily resolved but ‘set aside’. I voiced the reality of a power struggle between
disciplines as being the white elephant in the room.” One student seemed to summarize the
impact of the problem by suggesting that because “(differences of opinion) were not resolved,
we were unable to identify our rst goal.”
While conict did emerge as a theme, some groups were able to resolve differences as
indicated by the following comment, “resolutions came about in my group through discussion
and collaboration and considering the family needs.” Moving beyond the needs of the group
and reframing the discussion in terms of the family and client may be a way to get beyond
differences of opinion within the group. Being respectful and appropriately giving voice to
the ideas of others and open discussion of differences is important. The following statement
by an informant indicates that teams can still be effective despite differences of opinion,
“people verbalized their positions and considered all of the factors the disciplines suggested.
Some of those differences were not necessarily resolved by the end of the session.”
The Importance of Leadership. The importance of leadership was a theme that emerged
from focus group discussion about sources of conict during the mock team conferences.
Having effective leadership on interdisciplinary teams is vital because effective leadership
helps to frame the problems being faced by the team in providing services, keeps the group
on task and ensures that everyone on the team has a voice in the decision making process.
The following statement by a physical therapy informant indicated surprise in her leadership
abilities and the impact on team function:
“I was impressed at how well we worked as a team. Not only were we respectful, but
also tried to build off one another’s comments. As a physical therapist, I was surprised
at our effectiveness as leaders in the group. The various disciplines looked to us to
formulate discussion ideas and I was pleased at our effort. This may have been aided
by the delegation in the beginning otherwise. There may have been other disciplines
wanting the lead role.”
When commenting on the day, a clinicalpsychology informant remarked that problems arose
when “no one knew how to readily integrate all disciplines’ contribution into an action plan.”
Understanding how to organize the ideas expressed by the group is an important part of
giving the members of the team a sense of being effective and one role of a leader. One in-
formant from clinical psychology was very explicit in her assessment of the assigned team
leaders based on her experiences of the evening, “groups should not be facilitated by phys-
ical therapy students.” Another student felt that “(differences of opinion) were not effectively
resolved. The team leaders failed to lead.” The data echoes the importance of providing op-
portunities for students to learn how to lead.
Developing a Sense of Condence and Competence. Participants emerged from the
experience with greater condence in their ability to make a meaningful and important
contribution to team decision making process. One informant who addressed condence
conveyed the following:
“The thing that surprised me the most about myself is that I could answer the questions
from the other disciplines. I learned that I could bring more information to an interdis-
ciplinary meeting than I had originally thought.”
Other indications of increased condence gained from the learning experience was evident
in the comment by one informant from physical therapy: “After meeting within my discipline
and then returning to my group I felt a lot more condent in what I was doing. I realized
that everyone else felt similar to me. The rst meeting was intimidating. After answering a
few questions I began to feel more comfortable.”
Over time, possibly as a result of how the learning experience was structured, students
became more comfortable working in the group. A student from education indicated that “it
went more smoothly because we were more condent in our ideas and because we had
something to work toward (developing common goals).” A physical therapy informant in-
dicated that “everyone was much more relaxed the second time around. This could have
been because the early jitters were gone or perhaps we gained condence after meeting with
our respective discipline.”
With increased condence, there is also the potential for conict as reported in the follow-
ing comment:
“The rst (group) meeting was laid back and calm. Everyone was nice and respected
each other’s opinion. But at the second meeting some professions came back a little
more aggressive than before. I think it was like this because some did not know what
they were really supposed to do at the rst meeting. But they felt more condent at the
second meeting. This then led to turf wars.”
Overall, the data indicates that the student learning experience addressed those skills that
are thought to be important to effective interdisciplinary collaboration. The experience
achieved one of its primary goals, which was to foster a better understanding of the roles of
other human service professionals. The students gave a clear indication that this was one
benet. However, from examining the data, there is still an incomplete understanding and
appreciation of the knowledge and skills of other disciplines. In addition, the data also shows
that students do not realize how little other disciplines know about their profession. Thus,
this study provides an example of the importance of providing educational opportunities to
learn from members of other disciplines. Our results reinforce the belief that understanding
one’s own role and the role of other disciplines is the basis of successful teamwork
(Mattessich & Monsey, 1992; McCallin, 2001).
Role overlap seemed to be the main cause of competition and conict within the group.
Results indicate that the greatest amount of overlap was between clinical psychology and
social work because both professions provide mental health services. Role overlap then led
to conict because members of both disciplines wanted to provide the same services to the
client, and both disciplines felt it was their area of expertise. The amount of role overlap
was surprising to some students who were unfamiliar with the work of other mental health
It was often difcult for the groups to resolve this conict, and some groups were not able
to reach consensus. In one group, resolution occurred when, “someone gave in.” In contrast,
in another group, “When we felt that roles overlapped, (such as Social Work and Psychology
or Education and Psychology) we just assigned it to one of the disciplines…we could decide
the specic roles in our group.” Finally, some of the groups just avoided the conict by
having “each discipline take on a positive role and all work was dispersed evenly.”
However, the conict reported by some of the informants that arose from the interdiscip-
linary learning experience was not necessarily negative. The students were provided with a
realistic experience of what happens when multiple health care professionals work collabor-
atively providing care. In clinical practice, conict arising from differences in opinion are
not only inevitable but may also be desirable. Conict could potentially move the team to
engage in more innovative and creative problem solving. The successful resolution of such
difference may predispose the members of the team to develop trust. According to Bronstein
(2003), an important component of successful team functioning is the ability to reach a
productive compromise despite disagreements. Both the literature (Bronstein, 2003;
Mattessich & Monsey, 1992) and the data indicate that the key to resolving conict is respect
for one’s colleagues regardless of their discipline.
The ability to resolve conict is one element of successful collaboration. Students learned
to compromise with other disciplines toward the best interest of the client and recognized
that there is a need for interdependence among professions. Moving beyond a focus on one’s
profession to focus on the needs of the client or family is essential in order to reconcile dif-
ferences of opinion within a team.
The literature identies effective leadership as an essential component of successful team
functioning (Manser, 2009). During the didactic component of the learning experience, stu-
dents indicated that they were knowledgeable about leadership skills as well as the importance
of the leader’s personality in relation to the productivity of the team. The leader helps the
team to set and achieve goals while avoiding actions that would impede team functioning.
However, the experiential component of the learning experience demonstrated that some
individuals had “no idea how to structure/run the meeting.” Problems arose when “no one
knew how to readily integrate all disciplines’ contributions into an action plan.” Understanding
how to organize the ideas expressed by group members, as well as ensuring that everyone
on the team has a voice are important components of effective team functioning because
they give team members a sense of participation and fairness.
The data indicates that another major goal of this experience was achieved through students
developing a greater sense of competence and condence in their abilities as well as the
ability to work with others. One student commented on the high level of professionalism
exhibited by members of all disciplines. Students seemed to feel more condent after the
discipline-specic meetings where they realized that their experiences were comparable to
the experiences of their peers. Also, students seemed to feel more condent of recommend-
ations that were supported by members of their discipline than ideas that were theirs alone.
One student said, “I knew more than I thought, and was able to deal with many different
aspects of Susan and her family. I learned also that each representative of the eld really
knew their discipline well.” This is the type of respect needed to resolve conict when it
arises and forms the basis of effective interdisciplinary team functioning.
The ndings support the opinions expressed in the literature (Allen-Meares, 1998; McCallin,
2001; Pirrie & Hamilton, 1999) about the value and importance of including opportunities
for interdisciplinary learning. The benets reported by the students were consistent with the
literature examining team effectiveness. Student Interdisciplinary Day achieved the targeted
learning objectives thought to promote effective collaboration. In addition, the interdiscip-
linary experience provided a better understanding of the roles of other human service profes-
sionals and fostered the type of respect that forms the basis of effective interdisciplinary
team functioning.
Table 1: Denition of Key Themes Emerging from the Focus Group
DenitionThemes Emerging from the Data
Expressions related to learning more about the pro-
fessional roles assumed by other disciplines.
Understanding professional roles
Indications in the language that two or more discip-
lines may have or share the same skill sets in
providing client services.
Role overlap
Expressions of the belief that the nal plan for the
client will be improved as a result of a collaborative
Belief that one’s own discipline may have the best
idea how to help a client that leads to open disagree-
ment of conict.
Conict and competition
Recognition that the skill of a leader can negatively
or positively affect group function.
Increased sense of condence in one’s own profes-
sional knowledge which is followed by the self-
realization of professional role competency.
Development of competence and con-
Allen-Meares, P. (1998). The interdisciplinary movement. Journal of Social Work Education, 2-6.
Bokhour, B. G. (2006). Communication in interdisciplinary team meetings: what are we talking about?
Journal of Interproffessional Care, 20(4), 349-363.
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Boyle, P. J., & Moskowitz, E. (1996). Making tough resource decisions. A process for considering
both values and costs. Health Progress, 77(6), 48-53.
Bronstein, L. R. (2003). A model for interdisciplinary collaboration. Social Work, 48(3), 297-306.
Choi, B. C., & Pak, A. W. (2007). Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity in
health research, services, education and policy: 2. Promoters, barriers, and strategies of en-
hancement. Clinical and Investigative Medicine, 30(6), E224-232.
Freeman, T. (2006). “Best practice”in focus group research: making sense of different views. Journal
of Advanced Nursing, 56(5), 491-497.
Krueger, R. A. (1994). Focus Groups: A Practical Guide For Applied Research (2nd ed.). Thousand
Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
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Mattessich, P. W., & Monsey, B. R. (1992). Collaboration--what makes it work : a review of research
literature on factors inuencing successful collaboration. St. Paul, Minn.: Amherst H. Wilder
McCallin, A. (2001). Interdisciplinary practice--a matter of teamwork: an integrated literature review.
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Patel, D. R., Pratt, H. D., & Patel, N. D. (2008). Teamprocesses and team care for children with devel-
opmental disabilities. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 55(6), 1375-1390, ix.
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Research, 41(3), 301.
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Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense clinical practice guideline for the management of
stroke rehabilitation. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54(1), 158-162.
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About the Authors
Prof. Robert Wellmon
Robert Wellmon, PT, PhD,is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Physical Therapy
Education and a physical therapist who is board certied by the American Board of Physical
Therapy Specialties in Neurology. Dr. Wellmon’s entry-levelclinical practice degree is from
Thomas Jefferson University and he received his MS and PhD in Physical Therapy from
Temple University. His professional interests and areas of research involve the examination
of factors affecting functional task performance in older adults and patients recovering from
stroke and traumatic brain injury, exploring outcome measures used in clinical physical
therapy practice, and interprofessional teching and learning.
Prof. Barbara Gilin
Barbara Gilin, MSW is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Center for Social Work Edu-
cation at Widener University and is a licensed clinical social worker. She has participated
for 8 years in the planning and implementation of Student Interdisciplinary Day. She has
also been a member of an interdisciplinary faculty team that has traveled with students from
all four disciplines to other countries in order to compare professional practices and policies
with those in the U.S. Her scholarly and professional interests include group process, family
counselling, and recovery from trauma.
Prof. Linda Knauss
Linda K. Knauss, Ph.D., ABPP is an associate professor and director of internship training
at the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University. She received her
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Temple University. Her professional interests include
training and supervising psychologists; ethics and professional issues; and child, adolescent,
and family therapy.
Prof. Margaret Linn
Margaret Inman Linn, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Widener University where she is
the Director of the Master's degree and teacher certication program in special education.
In addition, Dr. Linn is a certied school psychologist and a licensed psychologist.
Mary Kalantzis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Bill Cope, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Patrick Baert, Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK.
Norma Burgess, Syracuse University, Syracuse, USA.
Peter Harvey, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.
Vangelis Intzidis, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece.
Paul James, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
Mary Kalantzis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA.
José Luis Ortega Martín, Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain.
Bertha Ochieng, University of Bradford, Bradford, UK.
Francisco Fernandez Palomares, Universidad de Granada,
Granada, Spain.
Miguel A. Pereyra, Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain.
Constantine D. Skordoulis, University of Athens, Athens, Greece.
Chad Turnbull, ESADE Business School, Barcelona, Spain.
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... For the client, it can result in unique innovation and point to areas of future development. It also provides invested participants with the ability to gain leadership, confidence, and understanding of their work in the context of others (Wellmon et al., 2009). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The digital information age and subsequent globalization have caused rapid transformations to the ways in which we communicate and relate to one another. It has almost become guaranteed that one will be working alongside others from different places with different values and backgrounds. However, the education systems in place since the Industrial Revolution have not kept up with the changes in society and the workplace. In the context of an increasingly networked world, education must cross cultures and disciplines to impart real-world wisdom and connections. As such, this paper explores the concept of a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary design workshop as a case study of using cultural immersion, the pressure of real-world stakes, communication gaps, and background dissonance to necessitate bridging and cognitive reconstructing for success. The paper draws from both qualitative and quantitative measures including post-workshop survey, interview, and content analysis of communicative threads to supplement the primary in-the-field observation method. It examines the expectations and emotions of various stakeholders in the process, classifies their actions and reactions, and analyzes the overall effectiveness of the workshop by the varying definitions to its different stakeholders. The workshop was a success in satisfying the motivations of the organizers and participants by creating an enjoyable experience and creating connections. The effectiveness of the workshop was created from the stress and challenge of putting participants in a real-world context with minimal oversight. Participants had to work across differences together with their partners and as a result, also learned design thinking and the value of each other. Even with self-reported negative emotions, the overall response was positive and towards future participation or dissemination.
... Previous work has shown that students feel more competent and confident after an IPL experience. 33 In addition, the positive encounters with the other disciplines, such as the team being open to communication and the respect demonstrated by the members of the team, were an explicit attitudinal reinforcer and most likely explained the improved perceptions of the need for cooperation on interprofessional teams. ...
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PURPOSE: Individuals living with chronic health conditions serving as healthcare mentors (HCM) allow the creation of high impact, authentic learning experiences. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a 6-hour curricular experience involving HCM in changing student attitudes toward interprofessional learning (IPL) and collaboration (IPC). METHODS: Thirty-eight students from clinical psychology, nursing, physical therapy, and social work programs participated in either the learning intervention (n=19) or the control group (n=19). Students in the IPL group examined the HCMs, who were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, shared the findings during an interprofessional team meeting, and collaboratively developed consensus-based interprofessional care recommendations. The Interdisciplinary Education Perception Scale, Readiness for Interprofessional Learning Scale, and Attitudes Toward Health Care Teams Scale were completed pre- and post-IPL. In addition, discipline-specific focus groups were also conducted. RESULTS: The IPL experience resulted in positive changes in student attitudes toward teamwork and collaboration. Teamwork among the students was reportedly characterized by open communication, mutual respect, and the incorporation of ideas from other disciplines. CONCLUSIONS: Positively changing students' attitudes and skills for IPC prior to licensure is an important first step in providing coordinated interprofessional care to patients/clients living with chronic health conditions.
... Overall, consensus is that participation in IPL is acceptable to students at the least, and at best is highly regarded as a learning tool. Health and social care students' perceptions of the impact or outcomes of IPL were recently described as: (i) increased understanding of the professional roles of other disciplines; (ii) better awareness of professional role overlap; (iii) an appreciation for the importance of collaboration; (iv) understanding that conflict can arise within interdisciplinary teams; (v) realizing the importance of leadership; and (vi) development of increased confidence in one's ability to collaborate (Wellmon, Gilin, Knauss, & Linn, 2009). All of these appear valuable for the progression of students' competence. ...
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Project report: Creating interprofessional learning opportunities for students on clinical placement
... Overall, consensus is that participation in IPL is acceptable to students at the least, and at best is highly regarded as a learning tool. Health and social care students' perceptions of the impact or outcomes of IPL were recently described as: (i) increased understanding of the professional roles of other disciplines; (ii) better awareness of professional role overlap; (iii) an appreciation for the importance of collaboration; (iv) understanding that conflict can arise within interdisciplinary teams; (v) realizing the importance of leadership; and (vi) development of increased confidence in one's ability to collaborate (Wellmon, Gilin, Knauss, & Linn, 2009). All of these appear valuable for the progression of students' competence. ...
Full-text available
A project report: Creating interprofessional learning opportunities for students on clinical placement
... 16 The formation of effective partnerships between health care professionals requires attitudes, knowledge, and skills that should be taught before licensure. [17][18][19][20] Working together effectively and collaboratively with other professional disciplines optimizes patient care outcomes and safety. 17,18 Academic institutions educating health and human service providers can provide the types of learning experiences that foster the prerequisite skills and competencies needed to successfully collaborate with professionals in other disciplines. ...
Full-text available
Purpose: This study examined changes in physical therapy (PT) student attitudes toward interprofessional collaboration (IPC) and interprofessional learning (IPL) following an opportunity to engage in a simulated cardiac arrest scenario with nursing students. Methods: Thirty-four PT and 17 nursing students participated. During the PT interaction, the simulator's blood pressure and pulse oximetry dropped and heart rate increased until ventricular tachycardia appeared on the electrocardiogram monitor and a full code occurred. The nursing students directed and assisted the PT students in responding to the medical emergency. Four surveys examining changes in attitudes toward IPL and IPC were completed: the Interdisciplinary Education Perception Scale (IEPS), the Readiness for Interprofessional Learning Scale (RIPLS), the Attitudes Toward Healthcare Teams Scale (ATHCTS), and the Team Skills Scale (TSS). Paired sample t tests were used to examine pre- and post-simulation differences. Results: For the PT student participants, statistically significant improvements were noted for the IEPS subscale examining competency and autonomy (P = .03), the RIPLS subscale examining teamwork and collaboration (P = .03), and the ATHCTS for team value (P = .012) and efficiency (P = .018). The TSS also increased significantly (P < .001). Conclusions: The code simulation positively altered student attitudes toward IPC and IPL. Interprofessional experiences of this type can be used to build teamwork and increase understanding between disciplines.
... (see Table 1) The literature around delivery of IPL has focused on development of implementation models13,14 or on student satisfaction in terms of their perceptions of their learning. 7,15,16 In studies of 'training wards' there are reports of program evaluations17,18 and of positive student outcomes. 19 What is missing, however, is detailed description of competencies that are required of teachers to effectively facilitate this education. ...
Full-text available
Background The introduction of interprofessional learning (IPL) may help to produce healthcare graduates who are skilled in working collaboratively and in teams. Few studies have examined how teachers might conduct such interactive education. Objective This paper examines interprofessional teachers’ perceptions of key features of interprofessional teaching. During 2011-2012, pre-registration medical, nursing and allied health students (N=756) participated in interdisciplinary clinical workshops and seminars around ten clinical skills topics. Methods Twelve of 22 clinical teachers attended a focus group or interview to provide feedback about key issues related to conduct of IPL. Results Four emergent themes were: ‘Skills for IPL facilitation’; ‘Strategies for success’, ‘Teachers’ learnings’, and ‘Teachers’ perceptions of student learning outcomes’. Teachers reported positive experiences in facilitating interprofessional clinical skills sessions, and perceived benefits for students. Successful interprofessional teachers were thought to apply specific facilitation skills to engage mixed student groups in meaningful exchanges of knowledge, clinical skill or technical aspects of patient care. Effective teaching was seen as dependent upon clinical skills topics being related to each discipline’s curriculum and being suited to shared learning. Conclusion Teachers valued IPL and would like to see it incorporated the curriculum. Findings included perceived improvements in students’ skills and greater understanding of other profession’s roles. Although teachers suggested a need for further specialty teacher education, they were keen to utilize IPL in the future. We present details of how teachers managed the facilitation of interprofessional learning.
... Although the results may reflect the curriculum in Australian nursing and medical schools, the identified themes broadly concur with the findings of studies internationally regarding the benefits to students' learning. Studies have reported students' improved understanding of roles and teamwork and also improved confidence in communication (Jakobsen, Larsen, & Hansen, 2010;Mellor et al., 2013;Wellmon, Gilin, Knauss, & Linn, 2009). For nurses, the importance of being able to articulate the nurse's role in interprofessional teams is crucial and this was evoked in the narratives when students in several disciplines spoke of better all-round understanding of others' roles. ...
This study aims to describe how senior nursing students viewed the clinical learning environment and matured their professional identity through interprofessional learning in a student-led hospital 'ward'. Undergraduate nursing and medical student teams participated in a trial of ward-based interprofessional clinical learning, managing patients over 2weeks in a rehabilitation ward. Qualitative and quantitative program evaluation was conducted using exit student focus groups and a satisfaction survey. Twenty-three nursing and medical students in three placement rounds provided positive feedback. Five main themes emerged describing their engagement in 'trying on' a professional role: 'experiencing independence and autonomy'; 'seeing clearly what nursing's all about'; 'altered images of other professions'; 'ways of communicating and collaborating' and 'becoming a functioning team'. Ward-based interprofessional clinical placements offer senior students authentic ideal clinical experiences. We consider this essential learning for future interprofessional collaboration which should be included in senior nursing students' education.
Psychology regulation bodies increasingly recognise interprofessional education (IPE) as important in equipping students for modern practice. In this article we report the first comprehensive systematic review of IPE among psychology students. We appraise and summarise the literature about the use of IPE in undergraduate and postgraduate psychology programs in the last 10 years. PRISMA methods were used in a systematic review of 10 electronic databases from May 2009 to May 2019. We included 19 studies comprising a sample of approximately 3447 participants with most studies conducted in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Australia. Programs varied in scope ranging from interactions between psychology and one other discipline to up to 25 different degrees. All quantitative studies reported at least some positive results in areas such as attitudes towards interprofessional team work. Four of the five qualitative studies reported positive outcomes, and findings from the mixed-methods studies were similarly positive. Problems identified included challenges with remaining in scope of practice and issues with team dynamics. Overall, the review demonstrated that promising research exists regarding the impact of IPE on psychology students’ knowledge and attitudes and that the use and evaluation of IPE should be encouraged The evidence base requires improvement however via the inclusion of higher-level study designs, larger psychology cohorts and investigation of the effects of IPE on professional competencies and behaviour.
The Technology Evaluation in the Elderly Network (TVN) was funded in July 2012 under the Canadian Networks of Centres of Excellence program. This article highlights the development and preliminary evaluation of the TVN Interdisciplinary Training Program. This program is based on an experiential learning approach that crosses a multitude of disciplines including health sciences, law, social sciences, and ethical aspects of working with the frail elderly. Opportunities within the program include mentorship, interdisciplinary online collaborative projects, external placements, academic products, pre-grant submission, trainee-driven requirements, Network meetings, online modules/webinars, and most importantly active involvement with patients, families, and their support systems. The authors have 120 trainees from approximately 23 different disciplines including law, ethics, public policy, social work, and engineering engaged in the program. Based on our evaluation this program has been perceived as highly valuable by the participants and the community.
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Working effectively with other disciplines is an important and necessary skill for healthcare practitioners. Academic institutions can provide educational experiences that can begin to foster the prerequisite competencies needed to collaborate successfully with other healthcare professionals. The purpose of this study was to examine changes in attitudes toward learning from and collaborating with other healthcare students and professionals arising from an interprofessional educational (IPE) experience. A total of 123 graduate students from clinical psychology (n = 35), education (n = 17), physical therapy (n = 36), and social work (n = 35) were enrolled in the study and participated in a 6-hour IPE experience designed to improve their understanding of the roles played by other healthcare professionals on teams and to teach the skills necessary to effectively collaborate. Attitudes toward learning from and collaborating with other disciplines were examined prior to and immediately after an IPE experience using the Interdisciplinary Education Preparation Scale (IEPS), the Readiness for Professional Learning Scale (RIPLS), and the Attitudes Toward Healthcare Teams Scales (ATHCTS). A 4 (discipline) 3 2 (pre- vs post-IPE) repeated measures ANOVA was used to investigate between- and within-group differences. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05 for all primary analyses, and post hoc differences for any statistically significant ANOVA findings were explored using a Bonferroni procedure. Statistically significant increases in post-IPE scores on the IEPS, RIPLS, and ATHCTS were found, indicating positive changes in attitudes toward learning from and collaborating with graduate students and other healthcare professionals. A well-structured educational experience, consisting of 6 hours of interprofessional interaction, can change student attitudes toward learning from and collaborating with peers in other healthcare disciplines prior to graduation and professional licensure. The current study provides evidence that a relatively short educational intervention implemented prior to graduation can positively change attitudes toward learning and collaboration.
This paper begins by questioning the ideologically sanguine assumption that ‘multidisciplinary education’ is, by definition, a ‘good thing’. The fact that this is so widely assumed to be the case is, it is suggested, linked in part to the considerable conceptual confusion surrounding the use of terms. The paper then outlines the way in which these terminological uncertainties created some methodological problems at the beginning of the research project reported here. The salient differences between ‘inter’ and ‘multidisciplinary’ educational initiatives are then examined. The authors move on to consider the appropriateness of applying the ‘evidence‐based’ paradigm to the impact of a particular educational initiative on patient outcome. They conclude by presenting the findings from a two‐year evaluation of the perceived effectiveness of multidisciplinary education in health care, which was funded by the Department of Health.
• The aim of this literature review is to explore the development of interdisciplinary practice.• The terms interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and inter-professional are problematic. Definitions must be viewed carefully, as interpretations tend to reflect historical socialization patterns that are now out of kilter with contemporary understandings.• Changing inter-professional interactions, teams and teamwork are examined; findings indicate that explanations of interdisciplinary teamwork should be all-inclusive of the particular cultural conditions and contextual determinants that affect team practice.• Findings need to be viewed with caution because what is applicable in one country may not be automatically transferable to another, where particular socio-political contexts shape interdisciplinary practice.