Educational Innovation/Research Award

How do you teach hundreds of students in four professional schools the importance of working together when it is so difficult just to get them together? This is one challenge that Peter Boling, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Alan Dow, M.D., M.S.H.A., Assistant Vice President of Health Sciences for  Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care, Joel Browning, B.S., Director of Academic Information Systems, and Chris Stephens, M.S., Educational Applications Developer, set out to overcome. The result is the Geriatrics Interprofessional Virtual Case. Developed through collaboration across units at VCU, and supported by a $1 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and $500,000 matching funds, this collaborative educational program allows learners to share information, defi ne their learning needs, and work together as a group to develop care plans; it has truly revolutionized how we train our students to care for older adults.

Over the past three academic years this web-based curriculum has involved over 1800 VCU students working in interprofessional teams representing medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work. The case system guides students in managing an older adult through four episodes of care. The program incorporates principles of team-based learning. Students in each professional school receive discipline-specifi c information and need to synthesize this information and enter it into the case system. First, students answer questions about a care plan individually. Once everyone has responded to the questions, students collaborate to answer the same questions again as a group, with the support of an electronic message board. Interestingly, active participation in the electronic message board has been associated with better student performance.

All work is completed on-line and can be accomplished wherever there is an internet connection, allowing students much-needed flexibility and overcoming the significant barrier of cross-school scheduling. Students report they are more confident with their ability to work together as a team and have learned what other professions contribute to solving complex health care issues.

While the original case program was designed around a geriatrics curriculum, the software program was designed in such a way that it can be adapted to teach a variety of content areas, and has been awarded a patent.

In additional to allowing students to collaborate, this project has provided valuable opportunities for faculty to collaborate in scholarship in preparing curriculum content as well as through poster and podium presentations and manuscripts to disseminate the results of this project. More than ten VCU faculty have given national or international presentations about the case system and reported results in professional journals. This scholarly activity, in itself, strengthens interprofessional teamwork and communication about approaches to care.

The value of this approach has attracted national attention and is being adopted at other institutions; the University of Kansas, University of Nebraska, University of North Texas, and East Carolina University are using the case system with their students.

For their creativity and skill in implementing this transformative educational program that strengthens student skills in interprofessional teamwork, use of technology and the s to care of older adults, for their commitment to rigorous scholarship to study this innovation, and for bringing our professional schools closer together in educating future practitioners, we honor this team with the 2015 Educational Innovation/Educational Research Award.