Interprofessional Curriculum at U of Arizona Prepares Residents for Patient-Centered Practice

By Sarah Sonies

At medical schools across the country, new physicians gather in late summer to meet their peers and prepare to practice in their fields for the first time. At the University of Arizona College of Medicine, residents will participate in a unique interprofessional training session with participants from over 25 different specialties and two campuses.

As part of their orientation to UA, residents from the College of Medicine and the Arizona Health Sciences Center Colleges work jointly on learning objectives that emphasize successful patient admission and discharge, reducing unnecessary readmissions, improving patient safety, and building effective patient-centered interprofessional health care teams.

“Students learn interactively, using examples based on real-life situations, to learn about valuable partnerships in the clinical environment that improve patient experiences,” says Andreas A. Theodorou, MD, FCCM, FAAP, founding director of the University of Arizona Interprofessional Education and Practice Program (IPEP).

Sponsored by the University of Arizona Medical Center (UAMC), IPEP, and the University of Arizona Graduate Medical Education Program (GME), the program guides students through team-based, interprofessional activities, including presentations from UA faculty and community health members, to foster improved patient communication and outcomes.

The program is one of three series of collaborative programming opportunities the University of Arizona’s IPEP provides for students and faculty across the health professions.

IPEP institute programs are designed to develop an institutional culture supporting collaborative student learning and faculty development across campuses, often partnering with members of the greater Arizona health care community and students and facilitators from the legal, communication, and social work professions.

The programs are designed with a foundation of interprofessional education, but have the end goal of providing students with a foundation for working on patient-centered care teams.

“Interprofessional education is a strategy to improve the competencies needed for collaborative practice,” said Sally J. Reel, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN Associate Vice President for Interprofessional Education, Collaborative Practice & Community Engagement and Director, Arizona Area Health Education Centers. “While a complex endeavor, the goals of collaborative practice address improving the triple aim—better patient care, improved population health, and improved value.”

According to the University of Arizona IPEP website, the IPEP curriculum is based on the Interprofessional core competencies developed by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). IPEC’s four interprofessional competency domains are: Values and Ethics, Roles and Responsibilities, Interprofessional Communication, and Teamwork.

“We felt that as a health network that we needed to work on developing a true interprofessional practice. You can’t stop at just resident orientation. You really have to change how your entire clinical network practices and what learning areas are emphasized,” said Theodorou.

The early efforts to develop an interprofessional curriculum at UA began in 2002, with the selection of four central topics of study for daylong interprofessional learning activities. IPEP then launched a longitudinal interprofessional curriculum and collaborative practice model in 2011 with funding from the Arizona Area Health Education Centers Program (AzAHEC). Funding from AzAHEC paved the way for more community health learning opportunities, such as the T-Health Institute for telemedicine.

“Fundamentally, this is patient-centered practice transformation,” said Reel. “Interprofessional education programs like this one are a tool to improve communication across disciplines and redesign practice to be team-based and responsive to patient needs including improved outcomes of care.”

Studies have shown that aligning cultures throughout the health care and hospital continuum can vastly improve the quality of patient-centered care, including patient safety, quality of care, and outcomes. According to Theodorou, measuring how these programs effect patient outcomes is still a challenge, but the end goal of improving the overall patient care experience remains the same. As medical education continues moves to more collaborative training models, medical schools are implementing more community-based training to increase collaboration in clinical practice.

“We want to provide students with an education that matches their needs in the real world of their clinical practice,” said Theodorou. “What makes IPEP workshops unique is how programming is designed to enable clinicians to break down silos from the very first day of practice.”

Sarah Sonies is associate editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at or on Twitter @ssonies.