Federal government picks University of Minnesota for new health center to provide collaborative health education for professional students


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services chose the University of Minnesota to open a new center for health care interprofessional education and collaboration in health systems and education.

The University was selected over 13 other applicants to start the nation’s first Coordinating Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice, said Barbara Brandt, associate vice president for the Academic Health Center.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within HHS, will give the University $4 million over the next five years to start the center. Four private foundations have also pledged $8.6 million for a total of $12.6 million in funding.

Brandt said this new education system could have an impact on professional groups and health care practices nationwide.

A new standard

The center will teach nurses, physicians, pharmacists, social workers and other health professionals to improve communication with each other and to work as a team, Brandt said.

Brandt said national health care reform has changed national health systems, and higher education needs to reflect that.

“We need the University and other higher education institutions teaching our students in preparation of this health systems change,” Brandt said.

Amy Pittenger, a College of Pharmacy assistant professor, said working as a collaborative team is becoming a standard model for the health care approach, making it important to teach it to students.

“It’s hard to do everything yourself,” Pittenger said. “You can’t do everything yourself.”

Working as a team improved Brian Sick’s effectiveness as a physician.

“There’s always something that the other members of the team brought to the table that I didn’t know about the patient or the situation,” said Sick, a University assistant professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. “[It] helped me understand the patient’s needs better.”

Sick and Pittenger will design the curriculum for how health professional students learn to work collaboratively once they work in clinical settings outside of the classroom, Sick said.

To learn how to educate on collaborative health and interprofessional education, Pittenger, Sick and Brandt attended a summit with AHC educators and deans, University health systems leaders and the Minnesota Department of Health Comissioner at TCF Bank Stadium on Monday.

“We just need to start that conversation, and I think that’s what happened [Monday at the summit],” Sick said.

Foundational support

It’s unusual for so many foundations to work on one project, but improving collaboration is so important that it brought them together, said Christopher Langston, program director of the John A. Hartford Foundation, one of the foundations planning to fund the center.

Many students still aren’t skilled in working together with other health professionals after they graduate, said Maryjoan Ladden, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Because of this, another goal of the center is for all health professional students to be competent in working in teams by the time they’ve graduated, Ladden said.

Langston said the foundations hope the new center will promote the addition of interprofessional education and collaborative practice to the accredidation process of health professional schools nationwide.

“I think we have great confidence that [the University] can do it well, but it’s a lot to get up and running quickly,” Ladden said.

Brandt, who will serve as director for the new center, said one of the purposes of educating students in the health care fields is to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.

“The endpoint is not how professionals are collaborating,” Brandt said. “The endpoint is on what are the outcomes of health. So how do we improve the health of people and communities?”

The HRSA and the donating foundations hope the center will be up and running in five years and become self-sustaining, Ladden said.

“I’m excited because I think this gives the University of Minnesota national prominence and recognition in education,” Brandt said. “And so I think there will be many faculty and students engaged in the work.”