May 06, 2018
By Jeff LeBrun, BScN

At Wheezy Will’s bedside

Jeff LeBrun has only praise for interprofessional education and the teamwork it promotes

Four strangers and I assemble around a hospital bed containing a polyethylene eight-year-old boy. It’s my final year of nursing school and I have been invited to participate in a novel event to mark the opening of Dalhousie’s collaborative health education building. The high-fidelity simulator we are gathered around has been used in the nursing labs for the past year, but everything else is noticeably new. Atop the sternum of the plastic child sits a manila folder labelled “Wheezy Will.”

It's my final year of nursing school

After some general uncertainty, one of us musters the courage to pick up the folder containing our instructions. The cover letter states that, in about an hour, the university president, provincial deputy health minister, members of the press and as many other dignitaries as can be crammed into the room will arrive to watch us conduct a simulation.

Sheafed with the cover letter is a brief description of the scenario and a copy of the patient’s chart. The case itself is comparable to others I had prepared for countless times, with one exception: instead of working with other nurses, I am part of an interprofessional team consisting of medical, respiratory therapy, pharmacy and social work students.

After brief introductions, we formulate a plan. Each of us has hesitations due to the unfamiliarity of the situation, but, as I would later learn, it’s exactly the right environment to encourage interprofessional education (IPE). At this moment we are all equals with a common goal that requires everyone’s input. While the simulation gives us the chance to share our knowledge and skills and practise family-centred care, success ultimately depends on our ability to communicate and work collaboratively to solve a problem.

The problem, our problem, is what to do when the LEDs in Wheezy Will’s face turn a neon shade of hypoxic blue.

To protect the integrity of the experience for Will’s future caregivers (hundreds each year in what is now a well-refined and coordinated simulation), I can’t discuss the details of what transpired over the next hour. But I will say this: the experience was magic.

I am unable to recall my group members' names

Looking back two years later, I am unable to recall my group members’ names and couldn’t pick any of them out of a crowd. But I do remember everyone’s contribution as professionals and individuals. The constructive character of our interactions is difficult to explain, but it has become the basis for all my interactions with other care providers.

I also recall how fulfilling it was to solve a problem and get results that none of us could have achieved by working solely with others in our own professions. No one watching us that day could have denied what they were witnessing: a diverse group of health-care workers coming together to help Wheezy Will and his two fathers make it through a very difficult day. Through this experience, what I learned about the value of IPE remains with me.

IPE doesn’t always get the recognition and dedicated funding it deserves, despite the mounting evidence about cost reductions and improved patient outcomes that result from efficient communication and collaboration between the health-care professions. So, I urge you to share this message with fellow nurses, students, professors and administrators, and I encourage you to attend IPE campus or hospital events. If none are available, an interprofessional conference can help you find innovative and evidence-based initiatives that may be a good fit where you study or work. A single IPE experience was enough to turn five strangers into believers. I think it will do the same for you.

Jeff LeBrun, BScN, is working as part of an interprofessional pediatric oncology team at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, while completing his MScN degree at Dalhousie University.

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