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AFE and USC partner for interdisciplinary health trial

Education and training increasingly has to prepare students for interdisciplinary learning, writes Linda Belardi.

The Sunshine Coast's two largest education providers, USC and Sunshine TAFE, have developed a joint training initiative to increase collaboration across the health disciplines.

Teressa Schmidt, Sunshine Coast TAFE's head of School and Community Work, said last year's COAG Health Workforce Australia (HWA) reform agenda meant education and training had to increasingly prepare students for multidisciplinary learning.

"Greater collaboration between disciplines is something that will need to be considered in future training package and curriculum revisions," she said.

The two-day workshop focused on improving students' communication skills, handover technique, as well as learning to manage the conflicts that could arise within multi-disciplinary teams.

"Students learned about preventing and resolving conflict but also about self care - staying resilient and learning to cope with stressful situations," Schmidt said.

TAFE diploma of nursing students, along with students from USC's occupational therapy, paramedical science, health promotion, nursing, psychology and social work programs took part in the sessions.

While the trial focused on mental health, the skills learned are transferrable into other disciplines and contexts, she said.

"The students learned about the philosophies of the other professions and the way that other disciplines make their decisions."

Schmidt said she witnessed a marked increase in the students' knowledge and understanding of other disciplines.

"It was quite visible the change in the students. By the end of the workshop, their understanding and the way they worked with the other disciplines was quite staggering."

The potential effect of this training to enhance the value of clinical placements will also be investigated, in terms of improving their knowledge, confidence and ability to work in teams.

A small longitudinal study will now be conducted to track the students' progress before and after their future clinical placement as part of their program.

Schmidt said she hoped to extend the collaborative training project in the future to enable registered nurses and enrolled nurses to practise working in scope together before they hit the hospital wards.

Sunshine Coast TAFE Nursing Teacher Jo McMillan said the students were taught skills traditionally learned on the job.

"Health professionals are usually already working in the hospital system before they are exposed to what other health professionals do," she said.

"Developing those skills during training should avoid some of the misunderstandings that can occur when people aren't aware of each other's roles."

McMillan said it was important for nurses in particular to know each role because they were often one of the first points of contact in a hospital.

"Nurses often see patients straight away and are responsible for referrals to other health workers, which makes it vital to patient care that they understand what each of these disciplines involve."

Sunshine Coast TAFE and USC are currently reviewing the pilot with a view to implementing the curriculum into foundation units of health programs.

An evaluation of the trial will be conducted to determine the place for this type of interdisciplinary learning in both curriculums across VET sector training packages and university health curriculum.
"Pulling all of those disciplines together was a challenge. But if it were it to be valued and embedded as part of the curriculum, it would be given priority," McMillan said.

The workshop, which involved a combination of both lectures, group discussions and a simulated activity, brought together facilitators from each of the disciplines to share insights about their various roles.

The VET and uni collaboration emerged from a teaching and learning community that has formed between the two institutions.

An analysis of the pilot project will also determine if this type of learning is most valuable to students as a foundation or a capstone course.

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