New AHC center promotes collaboration

The new cross-disciplinary center appointed a director over spring break.

by Mike Enright

The latest thing in health care is coming, and its name is interprofessional education.

While it’s no stranger to cross-collaboration, the University’s Academic Health Center made a leap forward this month with its newest addition.

The AHC opened the Center for Interprofessional Education and named its new director, Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, March 15.

The center is meant to “identify, promote, implement and evaluate interprofessional education across the educational lifespan,” Wagstrom Halaas said.

In the works for several months under the supervision of the AHC Deans Council, the new office became official when Senior Vice President Frank Cerra appointed Wagstrom Halaas, a family medicine and community health professor, during spring break.

Interprofessional education works by bringing together students from different backgrounds – pharmacy and nursing, for instance – to learn from one another, Wagstrom Halaas said.

The new center, she said, will work “behind the scenes” to facilitate increased cooperation between students and faculty, providing a centralized office to coordinate existing efforts and create new ones via educational programs, course catalogs and online resources.

Her first priority, though, will be to sit down and talk with AHC deans, faculty and students to hear their thoughts and opinions, Wagstrom Halaas said.

“In order to do effective interprofessional education we need to teach by example. And many of us will be learning along with our students,” she said.

Interprofessional education is important, Wagstrom Halaas said, because it promotes team-based care, which many health professionals agree to be the best way to treat patients.

“Historically, our health profession students have been educated in isolation from each other,” she said. “Together, they can see the full picture of the care the patient is getting and hopefully make that care better for the future, because they’re doing it as a team.”

Pharmacy professor Brian Isetts said interprofessional education is a better approach to teaching health care.

“One of the things we have to do at the University of Minnesota is to figure out Ö how to work smarter, not harder,” he said. “You have to start somewhere, and this is a viable means to start.”

Future obstetrician-gynecologist, biology sophomore Ashley Priebe – who said she hopes to enroll in the University’s Medical School in the near future – said she isn’t sure how helpful the new center will be for her career goals.

“I don’t know how much help I could get from students or faculty from the dental school,” she said. “It wouldn’t pertain to what I’m trying to do.”

While Priebe said she thinks the new office could be beneficial if it fostered more research, she questioned its necessity.

“It doesn’t seem like something the (AHC) schools are in dire need of,” she said.

First-year pharmacy student Dan Wahl called the center a good idea, though not necessarily pertinent to him.

“I know it would be used by a variety of students, I just can’t say I’m one of them,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how it pans out.”

Wahl said he’d be more interested in a collaboration with the Carlson School of Management, because he’d like to add to his pharmacy degree a master’s in business administration.

One student who could have used the center a little sooner is third-year medical student Brian Muthyala.

Muthyala is pursuing a degree in public health and has been doing research on doctors whose emphasis is in that field.

“I wish I had this,” he said.

Muthyala said from his experience, it takes a lot of time to track down the right faculty.

“It’s like you e-mail 10 people, and you get three (responses) back,” he said.

Muthyala also said he thought many students could benefit from the services provided by the new center.

“Students are always interested in doing unique projects,” he said. “Collaboration between the different schools seems to lend itself to more interesting projects.”