Students learn about interprofessional practice and social determinants of health

Knowledge of how to practice with different health care providers is essential for future practitioners, but so, too, is an understanding of the impact social factors can have on health.

For that reason, a co-enrolled course for University of Alabama medical and nursing students, Introduction to Interprofessional Health Care Teams and Critical Care Procedures, now incorporates information about social determinants of health.

The course was created by Dr. Louanne Friend, assistant professor in the College’s Department of Community Medicine and Population Health, and Dr. Richard Friend, professor of family medicine and interim dean of CCHS, and a family medicine physician.

The course, an elective that began in spring semester 2015, introduces students to interprofessional practice – when practitioners from different health professions collaboratively learn about, from and with each other to improve patients’ health outcomes. The course focuses on roles and responsibilities, communication, teamwork, and values and ethics for interprofessional practice.

To date, 59 medical and 108 nursing students have completed the course, and outcomes have shown increased student camaraderie, confidence to practice collaboratively and knowledge of healthy work environments.

Louanne Friend said while faculty are excited about the number of students taking and completing the course and the positive feedback, they agreed that a key component to health outcomes – prevention and primary care – was needed within the course content.

To introduce students to the impact that social factors, such as poverty, lack of access to health care and inadequate education, can have on health, Dr. Allyson Gold, a professor at the UA School of Law, recently delivered a guest lecture titled “Rx for Justice: Using the Medical-Legal Partnership to Improve Patient Health Outcomes.”

Gold identified the relationship between legal issues and negative health outcomes, and how the Medical Legal Partnership Model of Health can improve patient health. Under this model, lawyers are integrated into health-care settings to assist patients with unmet social needs, including lack of health insurance, public benefits, housing and utilities and income support.

Future plans for the course including opening the class to students from Social Work and Clinical Psychology and creating opportunities for students to participate in clinic and inpatient services.

Friend said the ultimate goal is to train students from different disciplines to collaborate to address health disparities among low-income populations.