JOHNSON CITY (Posted Dec. 18, 2012) – A group of students at East Tennessee State University has banded together to form a new organization with one common goal: better, more integrated health care.
The new organization, the Association of Interprofessional Healthcare Students, promotes cooperation and education among students across health-related disciplines, and it is the first such interdisciplinary student organization in the United States.
The group goes by the acronym AIHS – pronounced “ace” – and draw ETSU members from the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, the James H. Quillen College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health and the Department of Psychology.
Erin Hankins, a fourth-year student in the Gatton College of Pharmacy, hatched the idea of AIHS in the spring of 2012. The first general membership meeting, held recently in the D.P. Culp University Center, was a clear signal that there is a serious appetite for interprofessional collaboration at ETSU. More than 200 attended despite looming final exams, and more than half became members.
“We didn’t know how many students would attend the meeting with finals coming up, so it was very encouraging,” Hankins said. “We are serious about breaking down the barriers that exist between health care professionals. We believe in challenging the status quo.”
Interprofessional, team-based practice has gained favor in recent years as a more patient-centered means of delivering treatment, and the Academic Health Sciences Center at ETSU is stressing the approach. To promote learning across disciplines, AIHS will host seminars for members on related topics and activities that promote team-building.
Plans for the coming year include a clinical skills competition, in which teams will be comprised of members from different health disciplines, and a “trading places” event in the spring, in which a medical student, for example, would walk in the shoes of a pharmacy student for one day, and vice versa.
Hankins said the idea for AIHS came to her during a pharmacy class. Dr. Wilsie Bishop, ETSU vice president for Health Affairs and university chief operating officer, was the guest lecturer.
“She challenged us to think about what would happen if we changed the historical model of health care professionals operating in their own silos, where there are barriers to communication and little emphasis on teamwork,” Hankins said. “She asked us to consider what would happen if we break down those barriers. What would be the potential then? How would it change the health care model and how we treat patients?”
AIHS can help speed up the transformation by encouraging collaboration before students graduate, Hankins said. If teamwork is a foundational part of the learning experience, she said, the next generation of professionals will question the wisdom of silos if they find them in the workplace – and work to break them down.
Hankins is hopeful that AIHS will add chapters on other college campuses. The group has an extensive website at www.aihs.info, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, @AIHS_.
“Right now, if you’re a nurse or a doctor or a pharmacist or an audiologist or a speech-language pathologist – whatever your profession in health care may be – there’s still a good chance you’re going to be working in your separate silo,” Hankins said. “Those barriers exist in the professional world, and it’s evident that those barriers exist between health care students as well. We are determined to change that.
“It’s time for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists and clinical health specialists to start communicating. We aren’t the only ones who recognize this problem.”