Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Preparing students for health and social care practice through inter-professional learning (#25)

Merrill Turpin 1 , Debby Lynch 1 , Deb Spermon 1 , Emily Steel 1
  1. The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 It is well accepted that health and social care professionals work under conditions of complexity and uncertainty. The education of students aims to equip them for such practice. Partly, this complexity arises from having to work with others from a range of professions, often with very different professional assumptions about the concept of ‘health’ and how health and social care should be provided. This research was undertaken in the context of a course that is compulsory for second–year students from both occupational therapy and social work. Located in the early part of students’ programs, before their substantial experience in practice contexts, the course aims to increase their readiness for inter-professional practice through learning about the complexity of health and learning together. Action Research (AR) is a well-established methodology for enhancing quality in learning and teaching (Kember, 2000), and we used this to make and evaluate systematic changes to the course over two years. Through two AR cycles, we first gained an understanding of students’ preparedness for inter-professional learning using established scales and then we used open-ended questions to understand their experiences of learning together. We found that making explicit our aims in using the three models of health enhanced student perceptions of their own understanding of the complexity of health and the different assumptions regarding provision of services. The models of health formed a basis for transforming students’ knowledge about health, understanding that it is influenced by a range of historical and contextual factors. They also provided an important scaffolding for promoting students’ identity formation as occupational therapists or social workers, a crucial aspect of their professional education in the early years of each curriculum.

Kember, D. (2000). Action learning and action research: Improving the quality of teaching and learning. London, UK: Kogan Page.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Health and social care professionals can work in a wide range of roles from addressing direct services to developing policy or developing and testing treatments. Health is influenced by a broad range of personal, societal and environmental factors and different perspectives shape the way health might be addressed. For example, improving health could be approached by developing and testing interventions for improving bodily or psychological function, modifying the physical or social situations in which people live, or addressing societal structures and institutions through policy, legislation and funding. Students in the early stages of formation of professional identity can respond to the complexity of health, and the consequent uncertainty of how to approach it, by fiercely defending their own profession’s perspective against that of other professions or becoming disillusioned. We theorized that using three established models of health might facilitate professional identity formation in students from both courses by helping to make explicit professional assumptions. By presenting the idea that all three approaches are needed to improve health, we hoped to facilitate a more complex understanding of health and a more accepting view of diverse approaches to health.

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