A description of the insights and attitudes of undergraduate health sciences students in the Interprofessional Education Programme at the University of the Western Cape: Experiences of community and health sciences students
Interprofessional Education (IPE) for the undergraduate health sciences students has been seen as a vehicle that could prepare health professionals for improved collaboration in health care (Reeves, 2000). Early health curricula did not allow interaction among students of different disciplines. As a result students were equipped to only function in their own disciplines for their own professional purposes (Beatty, 1986). The Faculty of Community and Health Sciences (CHS), at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), introduced IPE in 1994 and established an Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning unit (ITLU) to coordinate the interdisciplinary structured modules for undergraduate community and health sciences students. This research is an additional qualitative inquiry which is part of a bigger IPE study. The main aim of the bigger study, coordinated by the Collaboration for Health Equity in Education and Research (CHEER), is to investigate the impact of Collaborative Interprofessional Education and Practice on the development of socially responsible graduates who are well equipped to practice in rural and disadvantaged areas. This researcher aimed to explore the insights and attitudes of the current third and fourth year undergraduate community and health sciences students who are involved in the IPE programme regarding their appreciation of the other students‟ profession and their attitude to future interprofessional collaboration. Students were asked about their experiences in the IPE programme focusing on their initial experience, interaction in interprofessional groups and insights, and attitudes to being involved in the programme. Based on their experiences, they were also asked to provide recommendations for the programme. An exploratory qualitative study was conducted using focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews. Six focus group discussions were held with 3rd and 4th year students from occupational therapy, psychology, social work, physiotherapy and nursing at UWC to explore in-depth students‟ insights and attitudes towards the IPE programme. Two additional interviews were conducted with students individually. Six semi-structured interviews were conducted to obtain background information from key informants (Unit coordinator, Course convenor, two field coordinators and two lecturers) involved in the IPE programme at the UWC. The data collected were then transcribed and analysed by thematic content analysis. The findings revealed that the UWC IPE programme is very useful and important and can be potentially beneficial in health professional training especially in fostering collaboration. The results show both positive and negative attitudes by students at their initial encounter with the programme and a shift to a positive attitude and greater insight as students became more involved in the programme. The positive attitude is linked to an appreciation of their own and other professions‟ roles; recognition of the importance of a collaborative role in the health care setting and the relevance of the programme (content, practical work) to their work. The negative attitudes emanate from uncertainties and structural challenges within the programme (timing, lecturing process, etc). There are also challenges linked to course organisation which are important to improving the programme and have a potential to influence the attitudes of students.