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The Dangers of Starting Interprofessional Learning Too Soon

Mallinson, Tom BSc (Hons), MCPara

doi: 10.1097/NNE.0b013e3182001c4f
Departments: In My Opinion

Author Affiliation: Medical Student, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, United Kingdom.

Correspondence: Medical Teaching Centre, Warwick Medical School, Gibbet Hill Road, West Midlands, Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom (

Interprofessional learning is certainly highly beneficial for both practitioners and service users; however, if taught poorly or in an inappropriately timed manner, it may do more harm than good. During both my paramedic science degree and my current medical training, interprofessional learning (IPL) modules have been taken in the first year of study. On both occasions, I was struck by the thought that the people I was talking to from the other professions did not really know what their professional roles and responsibilities were. Then I realized, neither did I.

In my opinion, taking a module of IPL without having a good understanding of the profession you are representing can be frustrating at best and also potentially damaging to interprofessional relationships. During my paramedic science degree, my cohort were lucky enough to have spent a fair amount of time in practice observing clinicians, patients, and interprofessional relationships by the time we had to undertake the dreaded IPL module. This put us at an advantage compared with students from the other allied health professions who had not yet been in practice. This disparity made discussions about patient pathways and professional roles particularly strained, as often I had little understanding of the scope of practice of other students' profession and some of the other students thought paramedics just "drove the ambulance" and offered no other care to their patients.

Now, during my medical training, my cohort has been lucky enough to take our IPL module with a nearby university that provides nursing and various health and social care courses. But here again, many of the students in these courses had only just begun their professional education related to what their profession actually is and does. It was a strange experience to be in a group with a first year student paramedic, who was representing my old profession, who had no real knowledge or experience of what that profession did. I started thinking that these first year undergraduates would benefit much more from the IPL module if only it was postponed until they had a little more clinical experience and a little more knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of their chosen professions. Equally, I felt that my representation of the medical profession, after only a few months at medical school, was lacking; I had neither the knowledge nor the experience to speak with authority of the roles and responsibilities of a physician in the clinical scenarios we were discussing.

At the end of my paramedic science degree, we completed another IPL module, this time with other students in the final year of their degrees. By this time, all of my cohort were registered with the Health Professions Council and the students from other disciplines were also about to become registered and graduate. We all had a good grasp of our individual professions and had worked in clinical settings, interacting with other professional groups and learning from them "on the job." On reflection, I found this second module of IPL far more educational, informative, and interesting than the first. More importantly, the second module of IPL did not become a competition of whose profession was best. It was instead what good IPL should be about: professionals from different disciplines working together to learn from each other and solve problems together. Delaying IPL modules until all participating students have a good knowledge of the role and responsibilities of their chosen profession may enhance the learning experience and subsequently benefit later practice and team working in the workplace as well as avoiding any negative experiences of IPL during undergraduate education.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.