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  1. Health

Getting to know you: USF pushes future health care workers to cross old boundaries

The health care industry is undergoing fundamental change with the goal of reducing costs and changing millions of patients' lives for the better. It's a complex task with billions of dollars at stake.

But a key to making it work involves a simple step: getting to know the person down the hall.

At the University of South Florida, they're calling it "interprofessional education," a new effort to get health workers from varying backgrounds to break out of their silos, start working together and learn from each other, all with the goal of improving treatment.

The theme was the topic at USF's inaugural "Interprofessional Education Day" last week, created in response to the current shift in the health care landscape, as more hospitals and insurance companies take steps to keep patients out of the emergency room.

"We are poised, in this country at least, to transition from the old way of providing care to this new value-based care steeped in affordability and quality of life," said. Dr. Charles Lockwood, dean of the Morsani College of Medicine at USF. "We've got to be able to do both: improve outcomes and reduce cost. A key part of that is collaboration."

As part of the event, USF invited alumni and current students from its various medical programs — the Morsani College of Medicine, the colleges of nursing, public health and pharmacy, the physicians assistant program, the athletic training program and the school of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences — to gather for a day of training and team-building.

RELATED: In Florida and everywhere, a big shift is underway. It's changing the way we go to the doctor.

The World Health Organization recognizes interprofessional education in practice, and says it can help mitigate the global health workforce crisis.

Last week's kick off was themed around students getting to know each other, said Victoria Rich, dean of the college of nursing at USF, who worked with a committee over the last year to plan the event. During that time, she followed a focus group of students and found that many of the university's graduates were working "in pockets."

"A pharmacist may work well with a physician, but not think to pull in a nurse," Rich said, citing just one example. "So we knew we needed to address that."

Lockwood was the first admit that, in many regards, health professionals work in silos. Even in an academic setting, students generally work within their own colleges.

"In order to create the structure we'll need in the next five years or so, it's important that physicians are comfortable and used to working with physical therapists, physician's assistants and nurses, from clinical care to research," he said.

At the event, students, alumni and faculty listened to speakers, including an airline pilot and others in the health care field. After that, they broke up into teams. Rich designed an exercise in which students from USF's various medical programs worked together to find clues and solve a problem.

She said she sees this as being an annual event at USF, where all the medical fields can come together and focus on a problem. The theme may change. Next year, it could be about the opioid crisis, workplace violence, or any other major topic that touches all professionals in the field of medicine.

"There's no one provider that can know everything," Rich said. "When we look at this population of students, that have such specialized training, all of their minds coming together to solve a problem is really going to improve health outcomes."

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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