Dalhousie Emphasizes Interprofessional Education for Its Dentistry Students

April 23, 2010

Interprofessional health education (IPE) occurs when 2 or more professions can learn with, from and about each
other, with the overall goal of improving collaboration and the quality of care delivered to patients.

Nearly 4000 students are enrolled at Dalhousie’s faculties of dentistry, medicine and health professions. It is a
challenge to educate such a large and diverse group of students on the topic of interprofessionalism and to provide
hands-on experience in patient-centred team care. One of the biggest obstacles is trying to integrate the IPE program
into the compressed course loads of students, especially when individual students have individual programs
of varying lengths.

Dr. Cynthia Andrews is chair of the IPE Steering Committee at Dalhousie. The committee, which includes representatives
from the faculties of dentistry, health professions, medicine, science
and computer science along with student members, is charged with providing
leadership and recommendations to integrate interprofessional education and
facilitate culture change within the health professions curricula at Dalhousie.

Dr. Andrews knows that dentists and dental hygienists can play a key role
as part of an integrated caregiver team, especially given the number of patients
that present with primary pathologies in the head and neck region. “Dentists
may not have been part of the traditional health care team in the past. However,
there are many cases where oral care experience is crucial in diagnosis, treatment
and rehabilitation,” says Dr. Andrews. “This is where dentists can and
should contribute.”

Dr. Andrews notes that individuals with oral cancers, diabetes, those requiring palliative care, the elderly and
other underserviced populations can all benefit from the integration of dentistry within a team care approach.

The concept of establishing IPE as a program at Dalhousie began in the 1980s. For the past decade, the Tri-Faculty Interprofessional Academic Advisory Committee has ensured that almost every student in the 3 health faculties
has experienced at least 10 hours of IPE sessions over the course of his or her degree. These sessions include
scenario analysis, discussion and role playing with an interprofessional team of student colleagues. Expert panel
presentations are also part of the sessions.

One of the goals of the IPE program is to increase the amount of actual interprofessional clinical practice experience
that it can offer to each student. “There needs to be a transition from a tabletop scenario of interprofessional
education to a clinical, real-life application of patient-centred team practice on a large scale,” adds Dr. Andrews.

A campaign has been launched at Dalhousie to raise capital for the creation of an IPE building. This would be a
purpose-built space where students can learn in the classroom, practice in teams on simulated and real cases, and
most importantly, interact socially with one another.

Ms. Gillan is a Halifax-based freelance writer and researcher.