Interprofessional Education (IPE) Comes to Life at MCPHS

On a cold day in February, a group of Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) faculty and students gathered in small groups in an Optometry lab on the Worcester campus. Instructors wearing white coats eagerly dive into the topic at hand: how to conduct clinical neurological assessments.

But the instructor isn't part of the School of Optometry - or even a faculty member. It's a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) student. Next up, a faculty member in the School of Optometry will walk MPAS students through how to use a Slit Lamp.

The group is participating in an Interprofessional Education (IPE) program, designed to bring students and faculty from across disciplines, schools, and campuses together in collaboration.

The program was spearheaded by Professor Kathryn Jones, MS, PA-C, an Assistant Professor in the School of Physician Assistant Studies, with interdisciplinary support from faculty and staff across two campuses. Interprofessional Education (IPE) programs enable students to gain a broader, more well-rounded education in the health sciences, empowering them to provide better individual patient care and to ultimately improve the overall quality of healthcare.

Professor Jones was inspired to start the program through her own experiences in the PA field.

"I have worked as an ER/Urgent Care PA for almost fourteen years, and you can imagine I’ve seen my fair share of eye injuries and issues, " said Professor Jones. "I never felt comfortable using a Slit Lamp to evaluate those eye issues because I never learned how to use one. I didn’t want my students to feel the same way, so I wanted them to learn."

Professor Jones reached out to Professor Greg Waldorf, of the School of Optometry, to see how their schools could work together to meet the diverse demands of their respective fields.

"I asked if he would be able to provide our students with Slit Lamp education and some other eye education like fluorescein, foreign body removal, and eye flushing," said Professor Jones. "He was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the opportunity."

It turned out that Professor Waldorf was already a big proponent of IPE programs because of an experience he had on the Manchester campus.

"After a vision screening in Manchester that included screenings and informational booths from other MCPHS programs, I became an IPE believer," said Professor Waldorf. "Seeing how the students from the different programs interacted at the Manchester event and how they helped each other out was incredible."

The School of Physician Assistant Studies and the School of Optometry, with support from Dr. Morris Berman, Dean of the School of Optometry, began to collaborate to bring the program to life. Scott Orrahood, a faculty member in the School of Physician Assistant Studies, worked to accommodate the IPE experience in the University's Skills and Procedures Lab, managed logistics, and developed the neurology checklist used by students during the program.

The result was a day filled with discovery and exploration for students.

"Scott and I picked sixteen of our best and brightest PA students from the second year to teach the Optometry students components of the neurology exam," said Professor Jones.

Small lab groups were created that closely mirrored the lab set up that PA students experience on the Boston camps.

"We set up the lab in small groups of three or four OD students to one PA student," said Professor Jones. "This is similar to our own labs where the students are in small groups and they teach each other with faculty oversight."

The result of this type of lab set up, according to Professor Jones, is that students experience more individual learning and attention.

As part of the lesson, the MPAS students demonstrated how to test the twelve cranial nerves, both sensory and motor, as well as cerebellar coordination testing of patients and how to tell peripheral lesions from central lesions.

"This is not something that Optometry students often do, but we are obligated to know how to perform one in case matters do present," said Mallory Andrews, Optometry '18, who participated in the program.

The lesson proved to be a success. "They went above and beyond, teaching them more than we asked of them," said Professor Jones.

Andrews appreciated the insight she gained from her peers in the PA program. "This program allowed the PA students to teach us their tips and tricks on how they assess and differentiate what cranial nerve may be affected during a lesion," said Andrews.

The information provided by the PA students proved to be complimentary to Andrew's course work. "We took our Neuro-Optometry course last semester and it was more in depth in regards to specific cranial nerves, lesions, and neurological diseases that primarily affect the eye. The PA students provided us with a refresher on what each cranial nerve does, but more so gave us a better understanding of how we can assess each one," said Andrews.

Professor Waldorf, who supervised the lesson alongside Professor Jones, believes that the lesson helped his students gain a broader, more well-rounded view.

"In optometry school, you learn how different systemic conditions can be diagnosed during an eye examination based on their ocular manifestations," said Professor Waldorf. "Sometimes, I think the optometry student gets bogged down in the visual system and starts to lose focus on the rest of the body... it is the forest through the trees analogy. Working with the PA students helped reacquaint the optometry students with more broad-based, full body testing, helping make them more well-rounded clinicians."

When it came time for the MPAS students to gain knowledge from the School of Optometry, they were led through a demonstration of the Opthalmoscope and Slit Lamp by Professor Waldorf and Professor George Meers. They were joined by Optometry students, who assisted with the demonstration.

"There are so many dials, knobs, and buttons on the slit lamp," said Professor Waldorf. "We tried to teach the PA students effective techniques that will make them more efficient and better able to diagnose and treat the most likely ocular conditions they will see with both the slit lamp and direct ophthalmoscope."

"Our neurologic background allowed us to give them insight into how to differentiate and understand certain ocular pathways," said Andrews.

Professor Jones was impressed with the breadth and detail of the presentation.

"They really hit it out of the ballpark with our students," said Professor Jones. "They showed them close up pictures of their own eyes, scars from Lasik surgery, contact lenses and how to fluorescein for corneal abrasions."

The program is just one example of the University's commitment to Interprofessional Education. As a University solely dedicated to the health sciences, the immersive healthcare environment at MCPHS lends itself to this type of education.

"There are many points of overlap between most health professions," said Professor Waldorf. "At a university like ours, it would be a crime not to identify those areas of overlap and enhance student education."

For members of the School of Optometry and the School of Physician Assistant Studies, the experience was an invaluable educational enhancement.

"Interprofessional education is great because, outside of teaching others your area of expertise, it is nice to hear one student tell another "here, try it like this," said Professor Waldorf. "That one-on-one contact with peers that have similar perspectives is so powerful."

That was especially true for Andrews. "This experience taught me to never be afraid to reach out to other medical professionals. When we start practicing in the real world, we will be working closely with other medical professionals and this experience definitely reiterated that," said Andrews.

Now, she looks forward to putting her knowledge to the test. "I look forward to using what the PA students shared with me in the Eye and Vision Center, community health centers, and when I go on my rotations," said Andrews.