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Most healthcare education (particularly in the pre-registration university or classroom setting) is uni-professional, in which learners learn together as a single group, e.g. nurses, doctors, dentists, midwives, allied health professionals or social workers, and do not learn with or alongside other professional groups. While the uni-professional context is an important arena in which learners develop knowledge, skills and behaviours relating to their own and other professional groups, it does not achieve the additional outcomes of interprofessional education.

Interprofessional Education and Interprofessional Learning

The literature uses a number of terms interchangeably and sometimes inconsistently, which can be somewhat unhelpful. Much of the original literature referred to interprofessional education (IPE), and certainly CAIPE (the UK Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education), which has been highly influential in highlighting, researching into and taking forward the IPE agenda, prefers the term IPE. Whilst acknowledging that different terms may be found in the literature, in this module, we will use interprofessional education (IPE) as the main term to emphasise both the informal and formal nature of much IPL activity, particularly in the clinical context.

CAIPE’s definition of IPE is the most widely used:

‘IPE occurs when two or more professions learn with, from and about each other to improve collaboration and the quality of care … and includes all such learning in academic and work-based settings before and after qualification, adopting an inclusive view of “professional”.’ (CAIPE, 2011,

As Freeth (2014, p. 81) notes, IPE is primarily concerned with learners or professionals actively learning together. The learning is based on an exchange of knowledge, understanding, attitudes or skills with an explicit aim of improving collaboration and healthcare outcomes.

IPE links closely to the concept and practices of the interprofessional delivery of health and social care where there is interaction among professionals that goes beyond having members of different professions sharing an environment together (Headrick et al., 1998), and interdisciplinary health and social care where professionals work collaboratively to improve health outcomes (World Health Organisation, 1988). This helps to support the delivery of effective integrated care across primary, secondary and tertiary services involving a range of client groups, implying shared assessments, clinical records, care and client goal-setting with patient/client, community and family at the centre.

IPE is also known as multiprofessional education which again is where one or more learners or professionals learn alongside one another. The learning may be around acquisition of a clinical skill or knowledge; learners may occupy the same physical space and use the same learning materials (e.g. joint anatomy of the lower limb teaching between doctors, osteopaths and physiotherapists or a postgraduate training session on blood transfusion for nurses and doctors).

Teamworking can be defined as a work-based practice carried out by two or more individuals who cooperate on a permanent or temporary basis to achieve shared goals. Effective healthcare teams should enable each individual to make a distinctive contribution based on mutual respect and their professional role. Health professionals typically work in a number of teams often at the same time, both uni-professional (e.g. nursing or midwifery) and multi-professional (e.g. palliative care or mental health teams). Learners often need support in working in multidisciplinary teams, particularly when they move locations frequently and therefore have to learn to integrate into many teams. IPE can provide some of the groundwork for this integration. 

Collaboration is ‘an interprofessional process of communication and decision-making that enables the separate and shared knowledge and skills of healthcare providers to synergistically influence the ways client/patient care and broader community health services are provided’ (Way et al., 2002, p. 3).

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