MCPHS students from the pharmacy and dental programs collaborate during an interprofessional education initiative, offering comprehensive exams to older adults in underserved communities. (Ian MacLellan photo)
Interprofessional Education | 2/16/2024

A Collaborative Culture: MCPHS and Harvard Team Up to Bring Interprofessional Education to Life

By Maaha Rafique

Dental health and pharmacy students treat a patient at one of the IPE sessions.

MCPHS students from the pharmacy and dental programs collaborate during an interprofessional education initiative, offering comprehensive exams to older adults in underserved communities. (Ian MacLellan photo)
Dental health and pharmacy students treat a patient at one of the IPE sessions.

An interdisciplinary initiative bridges the gaps between dental health and pharmacy students to build better care teams for real-world impact.

A collaborative effort between Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine is training future healthcare providers to work seamlessly in teams to improve patient outcomes.

Funded by a grant from the MCPHS Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, pharmacy, dental hygiene, and dental students work in units, visiting older adults at their homes in underserved communities. These visits involve examinations and follow-up care recommendations.

Lisa LaSpina, RDH, DHsc, Associate Professor of Dental Hygiene at the Forsyth School, emphasized the initiative’s collaborative nature. "The pharmacy student will hear what the dental hygiene student hears and see what they do, and vice versa. They’re in assigned groups, so they'll collaborate and learn about each other’s line of work,” LaSpina said.

The pharmacy students review medical histories, discuss medications, and check blood pressure. Next, the dental hygiene students perform extra/oral examinations and instruct patients on oral hygiene. The visits conclude with a clinical exam by an onsite dentist. Before they leave, each patient receives a complimentary care bag with materials for teeth and denture care. The team works in partnership with the MCPHS Pharmacy Outreach Program, the University’s community service program that offers free, personalized information about medication regimens and insurance coverage. The Outreach Program contacts patients within one to three days and initiates a more formal medication reconciliation process to ensure prescriptions are up-to-date and compatible with each other.

Initiated by LaSpina and Rita Morelli, BSP, PharmD, BCACP, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Experiential Education in the School of Pharmacy, the interprofessional education (IPE) program with Harvard University was launched in 2022. Under the leadership of a team that includes Robert Smethers, MSDH, RDH, from the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene, Loriel J. Solodokin, PharmD, BCOP, from the School of Pharmacy, and Lisa A. Thompson, DMD, from Harvard, the initiative has thrived since securing funding.

“We got the grant, which we were very happy about, and we’ve been going ever since,” LaSpina said.

Andreu Medrano, BS ’24, shared his experience, noting that teaming up with pharmacy students offered new insight.

“Both pharmacy students I worked with were surprised to learn how much dental hygiene students do. It made me feel good to have them see just how much care we provide to our patients,” he said.

Encountering patients with different language preferences, those who were deaf or blind or those using wheelchairs posed challenges for students. To facilitate communication, students used a medical interpreter via telephone. Jessica Hinman, BS ‘24, recounts addressing a patient struggling with ill-fitting dentures that affected their ability to eat.

“My partner and I talked with the onsite dentist, and we were able to recommend locations where they could access free or low-cost dental care,” she said.

As an integral part of the initiative, the team is conducting a research project to assess the impact of interprofessional collaboration on the effectiveness of patient care. Solodokin pointed out that the team is collecting data through surveys and expressed optimism about publishing results, especially given the program’s real-world setting compared to simulated environments.

“This type of experience allows our students to think critically about how they're going to achieve the same outcomes in patients who do not have the same resources as someone who they would see in their specific areas of practice," Solodokin said.

Jaymar Quedding, PharmD ‘24, volunteered at three sessions. “I was grateful to have the opportunity to work with dental students and happy to share my knowledge about medications and learn more about the impact of dental care on overall health,” he said.

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