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At last year’s Schweitzer conference, Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation President George Thibault, MD spoke about shaping a more affordable, accessible, and reliable health care system through interprofessional educational interventions.

“We have strong evidence that health care delivered by well-functioning teams leads to better outcomes, but we still educate our health professionals in silos,” Thibault said.

Add this new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the evidence pile.

Third in a series of follow-ups on the implementation of the IOM’s landmark Future of Nursing Report, it highlights promising primary care models in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota in which nurses serve as the hub of interprofessional, patient-centered care teams. The result? Improved patient health outcomes, and proven or projected cost savings.

This brief is well worth a read for anyone who is interested in the future of primary care—and it’s an affirmation of our leadership development program’s emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration.

Approximately 50 percent of Schweitzer Fellows are medical students, with nursing, dental, social work, public health, law, and other health and human service students making up the remaining 50 percent. This intentional diversity of disciplines is a key element of our strategy for developing leaders with the skills to deliver care that addresses the underlying social factors that impact health.

By sharing their intensive Schweitzer experience with health-focused students outside of their often-siloed degree programs, our Fellows have the chance to develop multidisciplinary approaches to problems affecting health while still undergoing their professional training. They emerge from their Schweitzer experience with a fresh understanding that health goes way beyond the clinical—and that that it’s going to take respectful, creative collaboration across disciplines to come up with comprehensive solutions.

“In many ways, the Schweitzer Fellowship is an excellent example of interdisciplinary education,” says MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing student Sophie Forte, who provided breastfeeding education and support to low-income women in Lynn, Massachusetts as a 2011-12 Boston Schweitzer Fellow.

“While all the Fellows are clearly dedicated to a life of service, each brings his or her unique background, experience, and expertise to the table,” Forte adds. “We [learned] that other disciplines can work together and provide contributions that foster the work of others. Suggestions made by other Fellows at monthly meetings were essential in moving my project forward.”

“I have worked in a lot of social service organizations, but this was a different experience for me,” says Jessica Sittig. As a 2011-12 Chicago Schweitzer Fellow and a dance movement therapy and counseling student at Columbia College Chicago, Sittig worked to improve the mental and emotional well-being of trauma survivors, their families, and caretakers through the use of dance and movement activities.

“Participating in the Fellowship was truly a collaborative effort, with all different disciplines thinking and working together,” Sittig adds. “That broke down a lot of barriers that exist within the institutions we are a part of outside of the Fellowship.”

2011-12 Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellow Michelle Caster, a student at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, worked to provide culturally competent health and nutrition education for the Columbus area’s Somali refugee population.

“The challenges I faced and the subsequent support from the other Fellows prepared me for a future of working with a team of professionals to better the health of underserved populations,” Caster says.

Click here to learn about the Macy Foundation’s interprofessional health education initiatives.

Click here to read the RWJF report (“Implementing the IOM Future of Nursing Report–Part III: How Nurses Are Solving Some of Primary Care’s Most Pressing Challenges”).

Click here to learn more about the U.S. Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to create change and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.

Click here to learn more about this year’s Schweitzer Leadership Conference.