Benefits of Interprofessional Learning in Healthcare

Interprofessional Education (IPE) in healthcare means students learn from each other. Discover how IPE can improve patient care and strengthen healthcare teams.
students engaging in Interprofessional learning

“None of us is as smart as all of us” is a well-known quote from management expert Kenneth Blanchard. This idea is especially relevant in healthcare — a complex, fast-paced industry comprising many professions and subfields. 


Healthcare students and professionals pursuing advanced education have a wealth of knowledge and experience within reach in the form of insight from fellow students, colleagues, and others. A collaborative, team-based style of education in the healthcare field — in which students with different disciplines learn from one another — is called interprofessional education (IPE).

Healthcare education programs that embrace IPE, such as St. Catherine University’s Master of Science in Nursing: Nursing Informatics program, may give healthcare students a huge advantage when they enter the ever-evolving healthcare industry.


How Interprofessional Education Applies to Healthcare

Interprofessional education is nationally recognized across healthcare subfields as an effective teaching practice that prepares professionals to work well in teams. Healthcare is a massive, ever-evolving industry that needs competent, compassionate professionals who can communicate and work with one another to deliver equitable, affordable, efficient care.

According to a 2020 article published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, around 92% of healthcare degree programs require interprofessional education (IPE) activities, and accreditation organizations for pharmacy and nursing schools require IPE in their curricula. As that percentage continues to grow, students hoping to pursue a career in healthcare should understand what interprofessional education means in the broader healthcare field.

In 2009, the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) established 39 core competencies for developing collaboration skills among students that would translate to practice-ready healthcare graduates.

For example:

  • Interprofessional communication. Demonstrated when healthcare professionals communicate with patients, families, communities, and professionals responsively and responsibly. 
  • Teams and teamwork. Demonstrated when healthcare professionals foster effective team dynamics and build relationships to deliver healthcare diagnoses, treatments, and care plans.
  • Values/ethics for interprofessional practice. Demonstrated when healthcare professionals create and maintain a climate of mutual respect and shared ethical values.

By developing core competencies in communication, teamwork, ethics, and other valuable traits, healthcare graduates can leave school with more than just the knowledge they need to perform well in their subfield. They also possess transferable skills, which they gain through interprofessional education experiences, that can enable them to work in groups of nurses, clinicians, therapists, pharmacists, radiologists, and other experts with different specialties.

Why Interprofessional Education Matters for Healthcare Professionals

“Research suggests that interprofessional collaboration improves quality and safety outcomes at both the individual patient/client and the system level,” says Laura J. Fero, PhD, MSN, RN, Dean of the St. Catherine University School of Nursing. “Thus, it is not surprising that healthcare systems are interested in hiring practitioners that possess advanced competencies around interdisciplinary communication and teamwork.”

Patients seek treatment from care teams that often consist of multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds. This underlines the importance of collaboration, as each professional on the care team must be able to work together with patients, family members, and other healthcare professionals to deliver high-quality treatment, diagnosis, management, and care.

Healthcare students can think of interprofessional education as an opportunity to ask other students and professionals questions about the priorities and focus fields they may need to interact with on the job. It also fosters the building of soft skills — such as clear communication and respectful, ethical conduct — that healthcare professionals will benefit from throughout their careers. >

“Interprofessional education prepares students to understand others’ scope of practice and prepare to work with colleagues to advance patient-centered outcomes,” adds Fero. “This preparation happens throughout their education journey in the classroom, clinical rotations, and simulation activities.”

Interprofessional Education in Action: Fall Prevention Case Study

An example of interprofessional education in action may illustrate the way that students with different professional training can learn from one another in healthcare settings.

St. Catherine University faculty led a project surveying students in different fields — occupational therapy, nursing, physician assistantship, physical therapy — about fall prevention. The Mayo Clinic describes falls as a leading cause of injury among older adults, so healthcare professionals in multiple fields need to understand and explain fall prevention strategies to patients.

Here’s how the students from different disciplines approached fall prevention:

  • Occupational therapy students thought first about administering and teaching patients to use assistive devices and other compensatory tools to prevent falls (a cane, for example).
  • Nursing students considered patients in skilled nursing facilities and hospital settings. They emphasized the need to keep patients safe by limiting independent mobility, minimizing opportunities for risky falls to occur.
  • Physical therapy students emphasized the recovery process after a fall. They considered interventions that would improve a patient’s balance, preventing future falls.
  • Physician assistant students considered medication management and referral processes during the treatment and recovery phases.

Putting students from different subfields in conversation with one another led to exciting learning opportunities — and better care outcomes for patients. Students had opportunities to ask each other questions about their approaches, and they noticed how their own subfields brought unique perspectives that could help patients.

Fero sums up the exercise: “Without an interprofessional approach, these differing perspectives to the same critical issue would not be uncovered and the best approach for an individual patient or client [would not have been] identified.”

Earn a Master’s Degree in a Program That Values Interprofessional Education

Learning from peers with training in different healthcare professions requires openness and curiosity as well as robust communication skills. However, the effort that students exert in interprofessional education yields many important benefits: Care teams become more effective; treatment programs better fit patient needs; and ultimately, patients receive better care.

Are you a nurse interested in earning a graduate education with an emphasis on interprofessional education? The Master of Science in Nursing: Nursing Informatics program at St. Catherine University is designed for registered nurses (RNs) with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree who want a collaborative learning environment where students gain competencies at the intersections of informatics and clinical nursing practice.

Learn from experts in interprofessional education and discover this innovative degree program today.

Recommended Readings:

Health Informatics vs. Nursing Informatics: What’s the Difference?

Nursing Informatics Specialist Salary and Job Description

Healthcare Professionals Educated to Face the Unpredictable /a>


American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, “Improving Health Professions Students; Understanding of Interprofessional Roles Through Participation in a Patient Stabilization Simulation
ATS Scholar, “The Case for Interprofessional Teaching in Graduate Medical Education”
BMC Medical Education, “Interprofessional Education: Tips for Design and Implementation”
Frontiers in Public Health, “Interprofessional Education: Reaching Health Professionals With an Interactive Professional Virtual/Online Event on Advocacy and Policy”
Interprofessional Education Collaborative, About Us
Mayo Clinic, Fall Prevention: Simple Tips to Prevent Falls
MedEdPORTAL, Interprofessional Education Collection
World Health Organization, “Framework for Action on Interprofessional Education & Collaborative Practice”
Zippia, “28 Astonishing US Healthcare Industry Statistics