Project Profile: Utilizing Interprofessional Education to Address Public Health Concerns

Interprofessional Education and Public Health: Opioid Use and Misuse

Drs. Keri Hager, Laura Palombi, and Heather Blue collaborated with Dr. Claudia Weber and other colleagues at the University of Minnesota – Duluth Medical School to create an Interprofessional Education (IPE) activity centered on an ongoing public health need, the opioid abuse epidemic. Second year medical students and pharmacy students from years 1-4 came together to work through cases focused on the public health aspect of opioid use and misuse, rather than the pharmacology or pharmacotherapy of opioids. The activity was designed to better understand the role of Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) on opioid use and misuse in an interprofessional team setting. The 90-minute activity consisted of six interprofessional teams discussing their specifically assigned case, answering questions based on the case, and reporting out their answers during a large group debrief.

Laura Palombi

In my public health practice, I’ve learned that good communication with interprofessional teams is absolutely necessary to address any critical public health need and to work with the community moving forward.” — Laura Palombi

What problem or opportunity in pharmacy education does this project address?

Pharmacists will face many public health issue in their careers, issues related to obesity, maternal health, and opioid use and misuse. Colleges and schools of pharmacy must raise students’ awareness of these concerns, but Drs. Hager, Palombi, and Blue posit schools should go a step further and prepare pharmacy graduates to find solutions to emerging public health needs.

Pharmacy students must learn to determine the needs of the community, understand the factors at play, and work towards solving the problems facing their communities. This project immerses students in a public health issue, the opioid abuse epidemic, and asks them to think about ways to solve this problem with their interprofessional colleagues.

What was unique or innovative about this project?

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Keri Hager

The most unique aspect of this project was the combination of a core public health concept (the social determinants of health, SDOH) with a current crisis (the opioid abuse epidemic). Students were asked about factors affecting opioid misuse such as literacy and education, transportation, and opioid prescribing/dispensing challenges. Discussing opioid use and misuse in the context of SDOH provided an opportunity for students to dive deep into these and other factors affecting substance abuse, such as age, income level, geographic location, etc.

In addition, the opioid abuse epidemic is an issue facing all health professions, not only pharmacy or medicine. By working in interprofessional teams, students engaged in problem-solving with colleagues outside their profession and attempted to better understand an issue facing all healthcare providers. For example, providers may not consider opioid abuse starting with inappropriate prescribing and treatment of pain. Enabling students to take a broad view of addiction and social determinants of health alongside their interprofessional peers helps foster the discussion and search for solutions that will meet the needs of the whole patient. 

Heather Blue

“This activity allows our students to practice the clinical conversations that are necessary if health professionals are to work together to combat the opioid abuse epidemic.” — Heather Blue

What’s next for this project?

The team hopes to create more opportunities for interprofessional collaboration around pressing public health concerns. The team is convinced of the value of this work and they have begun to incorporate a variation of the activity into the required Pharm.D. professional curriculum. The hope is by focusing on the social determinants of health, interprofessional conversations and collaborations can be fostered with learners at various stages of their education, even those currently in practice. By starting this work in school, students can be better prepared to tackle complex public health issues as practitioners.