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CMAJ - July 14, 1998JAMC - le 14 juillet

All for one, one for all at U of A

CMAJ 1998;159:12

© 1998 Canadian Medical Association

The University of Alberta will begin testing Canada's first interdisciplinary health sciences course next January. "There is a global need for interdisciplinary education," explains Dr. David Cook, a professor of pharmacology and director of the Division of Studies in Medical Education, and because of restructuring everyone needs to know how to function in a team. "It was clear something needed to be done," he says.

Interestingly, both students and faculty began developing interdisciplinary content independently but at about the same time in 1997. So far, students have run 2 pilot programs and faculty is establishing a mandatory course for September 1999. The interdisciplinary approach is part of a new curriculum the university has been developing since 1994. "If we can get all these faculties to work together," says Cook, "anything is possible."

Meanwhile, 4 pharmacy and medical students created the Alberta Collaborative Health Interdisciplinary Learning Initiatives (ACHILI) in January 1997. One of the founders, pharmacy graduate and second-year medical student Raheem Kherani, says preclinical interdisciplinary instruction is important so "we know what others do and how to ask for help." After creating ACHILI, they discovered a September 1996 joint statement from the CMA and Canadian Pharmaceutical Association that called for "teaching a collaborative approach to patient care as early as possible in the training of pharmacists and physicians."

"We knew we were on the right track," says Kherani.

In March 1997 ACHILI ran a pilot test with 25 first-year medical students and 25 second-year pharmacy students, who worked together on a case involving hypertension. This year it ran a second pilot test involving 36 students from 8 disciplines. This time students collaborated in cardiovascular management, from the acute phase to discharge education and counselling. ACHILI provided feedback to faculty on both projects, and the hypertension case was integrated into the curriculum in January. Ultimately, ACHILI wants a mandatory interdisciplinary course. Faculty agree.

The university has offered an optional team-building and ethics course for several years, but it tended to be poorly attended and offered little follow-up. The proposed course will be mandatory and ACHILI members will ensure that there are postcourse activities. The pilot phase, beginning in January 1999, will involve 800 students in all 11 health-science disciplines. "It's a big pilot," admits Cook.

The program will run 6 to 8 hours a week for 5 weeks as part of a course called "The practice of medicine." It will begin with sessions that reinforce the need for interdisciplinary content. Then students will split into groups of 8 to 10 plus a facilitator and tackle a range of projects and problems, such as establishing health care in a fictional new community or helping an elderly man who is abusing prescription drugs.

Afterwards, ACHILI will offer group sessions to teach students how to incorporate the knowledge in specific situations, such as a hypertension case. "It will help students realize the benefits of working together," says Kherani. — Barbara Sibbald

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