UTEP Health Care Students Get a Dose of Real-World Collaboration

When a car struck Joe Martinez, a 59-year-old man who is homeless, UTEP students who are nursing, pharmacy and health sciences majors engaged with medical students from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) El Paso Paul L. Foster School of Medicine to assess his injuries and develop a plan of care.

A physical exam revealed that Martinez had multiple signs and symptoms of physical and mental health problems that required the attention from professionals in different health care fields. A concussion, bipolar disorder, type 2 diabetes and a small wound on his left foot were a few of his most pressing health issues.

During a group discussion, Arron Pierce, a physical therapy student at The University of Texas at El Paso, offered to treat Martinez’s wound and suggested range-of-motion exercises to help Martinez’s injured ankle.

Rehabilitation counseling student Nate Chaney said he could help Martinez transition back into society and find a job. Clarissa Medrano, a second-year occupational therapy student, added that she also could provide wound care, cognitive therapy, and help Martinez reintegrate into the workforce.

“When you’re working in a healthcare team, you have to be open and respect each other’s opinions,” Medrano said. “Because there is a lot of overlap, I can see how there could potentially be some conflict if we did not have open communication and divide up different parts of the patient’s plan of care.”

A Case for Collaboration 

Martinez is a fictional patient in a case study developed by the Health-Focused Interprofessional Education Community of Practice at UTEP. The group consists of faculty from the College of Health Sciences and the schools of Nursing and Pharmacy.

Each semester, faculty members organize an Interprofessional Education (IPE) activity that enables students from different health disciplines to work collaboratively to address the health care needs of an imaginary patient from a vulnerable population. These activities allows students to discuss their roles, learn from each other and work synergistically to provide the best care possible to the patient.

Since 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized IPE activities as a necessary component of every health professional’s education.

“The earlier that our health professional students gain exposure to working collaboratively as a team, the more successful our students will be at working together as practitioners for the benefit of the patient,” said Margie Padilla, Pharm.D., UTEP School of Pharmacy clinical associate professor. “Patient outcomes will improve because health care professionals are working together and viewing care from a holistic approach.”

Contemporary Practice

More than 180 UTEP students from nursing, pharmacy, social work, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and rehabilitation counseling joined 30 medical school students for the October 2018 IPE experience. Students worked in groups to develop care plans for Martinez, whose complex case required the help of various health care specialists.

According to the information they received, witnesses heard Martinez yell, “I can stop cars with my mind!” before running into the street. During his hospital stay, Martinez’s constant pacing and incessant loud talking disturbed the other patients. Medication helped to alleviate his symptoms.

“It seemed like he turned around once he got back on his meds,” said Philip Taylor, a UTEP pharmacy student. He also noted that one of Martinez’s medications could negatively affect the antibiotic he was prescribed.

While listening to the conversation, Pierce, the physical therapy student, reminded his classmates that aside from prescription drugs, exercise could treat Martinez’s depression and other chronic health issues.

“Exercise is very important to your overall health,” Pierce said. “It helps you feel better. It helps with depression. It helps with diabetes and with hypertension.”

Complex Health and Health Care

UTEP’s IPE case studies focus on vulnerable populations to expose students to the complex health and health care challenges that these individuals face. Past case studies involved a refugee and an individual who is transgender.

Texas Tech medical student Renée Roy said the activity showed her how different health professions could collaborate to meet the complex needs of a patient who is homeless.

“It’s good to target a specific population that is often overlooked and say, ‘This is what we can all offer,’” Roy said. “I can focus on the pathology and treat, but I didn’t know about all these other disciplines that could come in and make this patient’s life so much better.”

The IPE activity also was an opportunity for UTEP and TTUHSC El Paso students to build a personal network for their future practice in the community.

“Bringing TTUHSC to UTEP helps to continue fostering relationships,” Padilla, the pharmacy professor, said. “I am a strong believer that when health professionals of all disciplines begin to build relationships, the more likely that healthcare professionals will stay in the area … because they have a team of people they can reach out for support or help. They begin to build community.”

Author: Laura L. Acosta – UTEP Communications