School of Social Work Expands MSW Student Opportunities for IPE

By: Ellen Ostergren, Destiny Santana, and Dr. Peter Allen Lee

Interprofessional Practice and Education or IPE is an emergent way of teaching and learning skills that prepare healthcare workers to be effective in teams.  As healthcare systems evolve to deliver care through teams, social workers’ roles and influence have expanded. The School of Social Work is part of this expansion, providing opportunities for Masters of Social Work (MSW) students to develop within an IPE framework and preparing them to work in dynamic health and mental health care teams where social workers contribute essential skills and perspectives among their colleagues who include physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.

IPE is a unique way of developing the knowledge, skills, and values that health care workers need to problem-solve within an interdisciplinary team setting. According to de Saxe Zerden, IPE is founded on the premise that each team member has key expertise and a vital role in improving clients’ health outcomes. For instance, social workers serve as advocates for care, case managers and brokers of resources, and hands-on interventionists. IPE training programs provide social work students the opportunity to participate alongside peers in other health-related fields to problem-solve scenarios, learn effective communication, and plan care to meet the needs of diverse clients and patients. According to Jones and Phillips, IPE allows team members from other disciplines to understand the role of social workers, and social workers often become leaders in this type of team collaboration.

California Social Work Education CenterOne such IPE program is the San Francisco Bay Area Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) MSW Stipend Program led by the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) and funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). According to CalSWEC, the program’s main goal is to build capacity and infrastructure for greater integration of behavioral health care and primary care services within communities in need. MSW students are taught specialized training that prepares them for effective behavioral health care services in integrated care settings. Upon graduation, students commit to seeking employment in IBH settings. The IBH program offers students participation in IPE with nursing, medical, and allied health students in the Bay Area.  Currently, our School of Social Work has six students in the IBH Program along with other final-year MSW students from the University of California at Berkeley, CSU East Bay, and San Francisco State University. MSW students earn a $10,000 stipend as they complete field hours, designated classes, and additional IPE educational activities. Among the key components, students engage in an intensive simulation experience provided by Samuel Merritt University and their simulation lab. The students receive hands-on experience collaborating with nursing and medical students in a simulated patient safety scenario, including practical application of TeamSTEPPS  (Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety), an evidence-based set of teamwork tools developed to address communication and teamwork in health care settings. TeamSTEPPS is used at hospitals and healthcare settings across the county to enhance cooperative processes that impact all areas of care delivery.

It is exhilarating to see our students participate in IPE, gain real-world skills for communication and teamwork, and provide other learner-professionals a chance to collaborate with social workers who are vital members of any healthcare team. While IPE is a newer element in social work education and not yet integrated into most graduate-level coursework, it is aligned with the Council on Social Work Education’s competency-based education model and a natural fit for educators and clinicians alike. Our School of Social Work is excited about the opportunities IPE brings to our students and we are looking forward to even greater expansion of these efforts.

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