IPE fellowship program fosters collaborative learning and interprofessional connections

October 20, 2023
A group of 23 people holding diplomas standing on the front steps of a building
Graduates of the IPE Fellowship program from the spring of 2023. Photos provided

The Interprofessional Education Fellowship program at MUSC is all about getting students to look beyond their own academic material. From electives like cooking classes to experiences in clinical shadowing, the fellowship program offers valuable collaboration skills.

The IPE fellowship starts with elective courses. Students take one or two electives, depending on their program. These courses span myriad areas of study, from an art appreciation class at the Gibbes Art Museum or a course on 3D printing to courses focused on student’s holistic well-being or the study of film and literature.

All residential first-year students are required to take two interprofessional courses, but those pursuing the fellowship must take electives. Kimberly Kascak, director of the IPE fellowship program, said the classes are designed around the students’ schedules so they can connect with students from other programs. 

“Some students want to participate in the fellowship, but they might not be able to commit to a three-hour course or a course that meets in person on Wednesdays,” Kascak explained. “We have courses that meet online, courses that meet at night. We’ll offer 13 different interprofessional electives this spring, so there’s something that meets the needs for everyone.”

While taking courses on art, wellness, film or something else, students are spending time with other students from different colleges and professions.

After taking an elective, students observe a profession that’s outside of their own. For Carla Martinez Morant, a Ph.D. candidate for the Biomedical Sciences program in the Duncan Laboratory, that meant observing a clinical geneticist. While Martinez spends most of her time studying genetics of liver disease in a lab, the IPE fellowship allowed her to see the applications of her research firsthand. She found that the geneticist works interprofessionally every day as she treats patients with rare genetic diseases.

“She works on a team to try to find the best diagnostics and patient care,” Martinez said. “She does genetic testing to understand what her patients have, and then once she has the data of what they may have, she presents that to the team, and they work to find a solution for the patient.”

For a student like Martinez, whose work is often confined to a lab, the experience with patients and other doctors was an eye-opening change of pace. “I was always interested in learning more about how I can translate my work to patient care,” Martinez said. “This type of experience not only shows you that health care works best as a team, but it also brings different connections and mentors that can help you in the future.”

Group of 11 women standing with diplomas outside 
Almost half of the program's graduates came from the College of Health Professions.

Dustin Mueller, a student in the Dental Scientist Training Program (DSTP), also known as the D.M.D./Ph.D. program, had a similar experience when he observed a radiologist as part of his fellowship. As a dental student, he’s used to looking at scans of the mouth and face, but his experience observing a radiologist helped him to see these images in a different way. “I wanted to learn more about how radiologists look at scans, whether it's X-rays or MRIs, to see what they see when they look at those and notice when something is wrong,” Mueller said. “It helped me develop a different perspective than I would have just looking at scans from a dental perspective.”

Mueller said that perspective shift is important for dentists, who usually see patients more often than doctors do. “We’d hope most people are going to the dentist once or twice a year, and so I feel personally that it's super important when we see our patients, we look for things that don’t necessarily look right,” Mueller said. “It’s not something we can diagnose, but we can refer our patients to someone else. I really feel like dentistry has a lot to offer in terms of connecting with those different groups.”

After their periods of observation, students must use the knowledge they’ve gained and put it into action by way of practicums, or externships. They can do things like work as part of a cohort, become an officer in a student organization that represents different colleges or go on a medical mission trip that includes multiple professions. Essentially, a practicum can be any experience that combines more than one medical field. Martinez, the Ph.D. candidate, serves as the president of the International Student Association chapter at MUSC, where members of her executive board come from other colleges. She said working with students from different institutions and backgrounds has prepared her to do the same thing after school. 

“I think if you don't understand what everyone's doing, you will have a harder time when you are in the real world because when you go to your job after school, you have to work with people from very different backgrounds,” she said. “And the more you learn, you become a better person, a better citizen and a better health care provider.”

DSTP student Mueller competed with students from other schools in the MUSC CLARION Competition, an interactive case study that challenges small groups of students to work together to analyze a case and make recommendations. Mueller said that the experience in the CLARION Competition helped him to think outside the box when approaching complicated cases. “The competition not only allowed me the opportunity to talk to people from other colleges, but it also gives you a lot of ideas that maybe you would never have thought of,” Mueller said. “It’s a cool opportunity for you to connect with specialties outside of your home college.”

These experiences offer students opportunities to lead and take ownership of challenging projects, while at the same time enabling fellow students to learn more about the unique opportunities the practicums offer and the value they provide. 

As part of the practicum, students must write a scholarly paper about their experiences. “It's not just about participating in an experience but being able to teach others about that experience,” Kascak said. “So, if they've gone on a medical mission trip, that's great, but they have to come back and educate other people on that experience to grow it and spread the word.”

Kascak said the goal of the IPE fellowship is simply to encourage interprofessional relationships among students and faculty. As head of the program, she wants to ensure that her graduates have had enriching collaborative learning experiences so that they can be better collaborators as they move into their futures in health care and research. “We're really trying to show students how each one of their fields is important and a piece of the puzzle to for a piece of patient satisfaction and patient safety.”