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Medical, pharmacy, nursing and social work students gathered at the Alpert Medical School for an inter-professional workshop Nov. 28 to learn how to cooperate as a team of medical professionals. Students from Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island and the Med School worked for three hours on various case studies that pushed them to rely on each other and ask for advice. 

"You can't practice medicine in a silo anymore," said Paul George, director of the Med School's second-year curriculum and the event's organizer. "This puts students out of their comfort zone," he added. "We have them help teach each other."

Groups of four students, one from each discipline, were assigned a case study to work on together. 

This is the first time social workers have been included in the workshop, which was held for the fifth time. Nationally, there has been a movement to help doctors learn how to take advantage of the skills social workers bring to clinical settings. "It's where health care is moving these days," George said. "Doctors are constantly reliant on social workers." Patients normally struggle to discuss important issues, like paying for health care, with doctors, he said. 

Andre Anderson '11 MD'15 praised the workshop for teaching medical students about the importance of social work. As an undergrad, Anderson participated in Health Leads, a group that aims to help patients access resources to address social needs, but he hadn't been exposed to the socioeconomic issues involved with health care  for some time. "It's always good to be reminded how important socioeconomics is," Anderson said.

One group consisted of Ted Apstein MD'15; Linda Harrod, a social work master's candidate at Rhode Island College; Kayla Duquette, a fifth-year pharmacy student from the University of Rhode Island; and Joshua Menard, a senior nursing student at the University of Rhode Island. Inside the clinical suite, an actor was waiting, pretending to be a 69-year-old man with pneumonia. The team was then challenged to evaluate him, diagnose him, prescribe him the appropriate medicine and give him advice on handling his treatment. 

Before meeting the patient, the team members started to plan their approach outside the clinical suite. Harrod reminded the team to give her a moment alone with the patient to discuss things like domestic abuse or the financial burdens of medical care in a confidential setting. These are issues doctors often face, but that can be more efficiently and comprehensively handled by social workers.

The team then entered the room to examine the patient, with the doctor and nurse taking vitals and asking questions about health history as the pharmacist started crunching numbers for dosage suggestions. The team members only broke character once, when they took the patient's temperature and discovered that the actor really did have a slight fever. "It's actually supposed to say 100.4 in the script," the actor whispered to the nursing student, who giggled softly for a moment and continued with the exam.

Leaving the social worker and the patient alone in the room, the rest of the team met outside to start developing a treatment strategy. 

"It was really nice to practice doing these things with my peers," Menard said. Nursing students get to work with doctors in the hospitals during their rounds, but "don't get much respect because we're students," he said. This was the first time Menard had done any practice rounds with other students. "I can practice more confidently," he said.

"I was really nervous about this, though," Duquette added, noting that she had never done her rounds with people other than pharmacists. "I was afraid we wouldn't be able to come to a decision as a team," she said. "I kept thinking, 'Oh no, four different majors! We just can't do it.'"

"Trust was a big deal," Apstein said. "It was the first time we really practiced trusting other people to do what their specialty is."

George said that students are often nervous working with other specialties. "I never got any training like this until I was a resident," he said. "But this way, it becomes more natural. When they do hit the wards after school, they can work more seamlessly together as a team."


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