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Study Led By Health and Aging Expert Lends New Insights on Interprofessional Health Care Training

Former students who've participated in the study.

Authored by: Alina Ladyzhensky

Photography by: Image provided

Faculty & Research


In the fields of health and geriatric care, interprofessional communication and team collaboration are of critical importance, as they can tangibly influence patient and family caregiver outcomes.

Seminal reports from the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization recommend that all health professions be educated in interprofessional team care as part of the patient-centered model. Moreover, studies suggest that the beginning stage of a healthcare professional’s education is the optimal timeframe for acquiring the communication and interpersonal skills needed to effectively work on a health care team.

This, of course, raises the question: what training methods for health professions students will lead to better teamwork and improved patient care?

A recent research study led by Zvi D. Gellis, PhD, director of the Center for Mental Health & Aging and the Ann Nolan Reese Penn Aging Certificate Program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), demonstrates the positive impact of utilizing Interprofessional Education (IPE) simulation-based training to instruct health professions students in team communication.

“There has been increased interest in interprofessional education for health care teams,” said Dr. Gellis. “Health care educators have sought to create interprofessional training that teaches the key elements of effective teamwork in simulated settings. Using a simulation delivery method facilitates the practice of clinical skills in a stimulus-rich and controlled environment for students to integrate theoretical concepts and on-the-job skills.”

The federally-funded study, led by Dr. Gellis and his health professions colleagues from Penn and the University of the Sciences, reports on outcomes of a simulation-based “real-world” training among a large group of health professions students comprised of Medicine, Nursing, Chaplaincy, and Geriatrics Social Work Scholars (from the Penn Aging Certificate Program), as well as University of the Sciences Occupational, Physical Therapy, and Pharmacy students.

Dr. Gellis and his research partners examined a comprehensive set of outcomes overlooked in previous work, including attitudes towards health care teams, self-efficacy in team communication, interprofessional collaboration, and satisfaction with the simulation. The research team chose a geriatrics-palliative case study because this specialty has grown significantly in the United States, creating an increased demand for health professionals with specialized clinical skills to work with patients and families. Interprofessional teams frequently treat older patients with prevalent and complex chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Following the training, team communication self-efficacy scale scores and interprofessional collaboration scores increased among the health professions students. In addition, all participants reported more positive attitudes towards working in health care teams and reported high satisfaction scores, post-simulation.

The study, published in the journal, Gerontology & Geriatrics Education, revealed many advantages to simulation training in health care education. Simulation training enables students to practice clinical skills in real time among peers and faculty, without jeopardizing the safety of actual patients, and it affords the opportunity to receive immediate patient feedback within a supportive learning environment. Meanwhile, faculty have the chance to lead by example by discussing the significance of interprofessional team roles, participant recruitment in simulation learning with other disciplines, and modeling positive and professional clinical team behaviors. Simulation training can improve performance and self-efficacy in real-world clinical settings, resulting in a better experience for patients and their caregivers. As Dr. Gellis explained, “The knowledge of other’s roles, effective communication, and willingness to work on a team are key determinants for collaboration and improved patient care.”

This research was supported by a Federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.