Nursing and medical students learn in shared environment

Assistant Professor of Hematology and Oncology Marlene M. von Friederichs-Fitzwater teaches the first interprofessional course during the School of Nursing's inaugural year of classes.

Graduate nursing and medical students came together in a unique cancer care course offered for the first time at UC Davis this year as part of the health system’s commitment to transcend professional boundaries to improve health.

Complex health-care problems are solved through collaborative efforts that most readily include multidisciplinary professionals. The 2009 launch of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis — a school dedicated to ensuring health professionals learn multiple perspectives to work and communicate as teams — was a significant step toward the accomplishment of that interprofessional goal. The cancer care course was one of the first interprofessional courses provided during the school’s inaugural year of classes.

Marlene M. von Friederichs-Fitzwater, assistant professor of hematology and oncology, and director of the Outreach Research and Education Program at the UC Davis Cancer Center, is the lead instructor for the first of many courses centered on that commitment.

“After thirty years of teaching on all levels, this is the most exciting class I’ve ever taught.” said Marlene von Friederichs-Fitzwater, assistant professor of hematology and oncology and director of the Outreach Research and Education Program at the UC Davis Cancer Center.

Fred Meyers, vice dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine and a professor of Internal Medicine, co-teaches the intensive four-week course, Taking a Transdisciplinary, Interprofessional Approach to Reducing Cancer & Health Disparities.

Design of the course represents a full year of effort by von Friedrichs-Fitzwater to incorporate diverse elements of nursing and medical education into a unitary curriculum that reflects the interdisciplinary nature of health-care research and treatment. She and Meyers offered the first section of their break-through course this winter.

Dual enrollment of students from the UC Davis School of Medicine and Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing provides a cooperative learning exchange, which aligns shared commitment to interdisciplinary education, von Friedrichs-Fitzwater said. Graduate students in Public Health, biomedical engineering and Health Informatics will take the course in subsequent terms.

Public and private sector partners from across the United States provide vital financial support for this new learning paradigm of interprofessional health sciences education. The National Institute of Health Sciences and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are committed investors who share the vision for transdisciplinary research initiatives. Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing graduates will use the experience that they gain in this and other courses to lead research programs that congregate interdisciplinary teams of health professionals together to address complex health challenges including cancer and health disparities, obesity, and substance abuse.

“The more I learned about the value of bringing widely diverse disciplines together in a more integrated way,” von Friederichs-Fitzwater said, “the more sense it made to create interprofessional classes.”

UC Davis leaders expect interprofessional courses to prepare students to take a holistic approach to solving problems.

Von Friedrichs-Fitzwater taught a similar course in 2009 to help fourth-year medical students prepare for residencies. That experience, combined with her participation at numerous National Institutes of Health workshops on transdisciplinary action, helped her develop and refine the curriculum frameworks. Students say the course is a positive addition to their education.

“Everyone in the class is very receptive to each other's perspectives,” Lisa Martinez, a nursing graduate student, said. “Without this course, my student experience would be incomplete.”

As experienced health-care professionals, nursing graduate students offer the benefit of academic and practitioner perspectives to their medical school colleagues, who just began their clinical experiences.

"After working with a couple of nurses for a group project," Brian Kurose, a fourth-year medical student said, "it was refreshing to have ideas come from a perspective other than from physicians."

Nursing graduate student Eileen Andrae is happy the course offers the chance to network with individuals in the community and learn about current research topics.

“I think that fostering positive relationships among providers during our education can create sustainable changes in the way we provide care to people,” Andrae said.

These health-care students will ultimately work closely together on clinical and research teams. UC Davis leaders expect interprofessional courses to prepare students to take a holistic approach to solving problems. A primary goal of the course is to challenge students to come up with better solutions to reduce cancer health disparities, and save lives, von Friedrichs-Fitzwater said.

“As we become more familiar with each other’s theories, language, models and perspectives, exciting new paths of exploration will open,” she said.