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“We have had many students say that the work of nutritionists is limited to helping people lose weight,” says Nancy Hoffart, dean of the LAU Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing. “Others did not even know what social workers do.” The LAU Interprofessional Education (IPE) program— a joint initiative by the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing — aims to change this problem of perception.

Through a combination of didactic lectures, role-play exercises and case-based discussions, LAU students of nursing, pharmacy, medicine, nutrition and social work converge five times over the course of their enrollment for a half-day event called a “Step,” a workshop-like training during which they acquire specific communication skills relevant to patient safety. They also tap into the importance of teamwork and conflict resolution skills in a fast-paced hospital setting, as well as the ethical dilemmas associated with taking the right decision at the right time.

In keeping with the program’s commitment to celebrate diversity, faculty members from the four participating schools and LAU Medical Center–Rizk Hospital staff help in moderating the group discussions. So far, over 900students have participated in the LAU IPE Steps and 75 faculty members have contributed to the program.

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“People make friends during the IPE sessions, which helps them learn more about each other and potentially become more comfortable working across disciplines when they graduate,” Hoffart explains. Entrenching the concept of collaborative practice — working together in a way to avoid conflicts and ensure better outcomes — into students is at the core of the program.

“It has been evidenced that patient care has better outcomes, such as shorter hospital stays, when healthcare teams collaborate,” says Assistant Professor of Nutrition Nadine Zeeni, who is the program’s coordinator.

The LAU IPE program has been actively working toward making patient-centeredness a priority for health and social work students soon to be joining the job market. “Back in the day, the physician would be leading the healthcare team and would be the one calling the shots. However, modern trends are disinclined to even identify one person to be at the head of a healthcare team. The center of attention should be the patient and in some cases their families as well,”says Zeeni.

“The IPE Steps have opened my eyes to the ways social work ties in with healthcare, especially medicine, and taught me how much work still needs to be done to create harmonious, interdisciplinary teams,” says Rama el-Dukar, a senior social work student who has completed four IPE Steps so far. “What I learned will definitely help me in my profession since I now have more competencies and more confidence, which has allowed me to state my opinion to the team and show them how important social work is in a hospital setting.”

In the near future the program plans to broaden the scope of its work to include interprofessional simulation sessions in the simulation laboratory and inter-professional clinical activities led by LAU faculty and outreach clinics.

Fulbright scholar Chant Kazandjian,who graduated from LAU with a B.S. in Nursing in 2013, is working on a master’s in clinical psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Kazandjian is planning to start a Ph.D. program in higher education in the United States, with a focus on IPE. “Being introduced to IPE at LAU immensely influenced my decision to research it. I am looking forward to bringing the knowledge and expertise I acquire back to LAU , if granted the opportunity,” Kazandjian enthuses.