A 'RIPPER' Project: advancing rural inter-professional health education at the University of Tasmania

Jessica J Whelan, Judy F Spencer, Kim Rooney
Rural and Remote Health 2008, 8 (3): 1017

INTRODUCTION: Attending to the shortage and sustainability of health care professionals and resources in rural areas in Australia is a continuing challenge. In response, there is a heightened focus on new models of healthcare delivery and collaboration that optimise the quality of patient care, respond to complex health needs and increase professional job satisfaction. Interprofessional rural health education within universities has been proposed as one way of addressing these challenges.

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: This article reports on the development, design, implementation and evaluation of the RIPPER initiative (Rural Interprofessional Program Education Retreat). RIPPER is an interprofessional rural health education initiative developed by a team at the University of Tasmania's Faculty of Health Science. The objective of the program was to develop a rural interprofessional learning module for final year undergraduate health science students at the University of Tasmania. The program was first piloted in a rural Tasmanian community in 2006, with a second iteration in 2007. Participants in the program included approximately 60 students from the disciplines of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy.

METHOD: The format and educational design of the RIPPER program was focussed on a multi-station learning circuit using interprofessional case-based scenarios. Each learning station employed experiential and interactive educational strategies that included high and low fidelity simulation, role play and reflection. The learning stations required students to work collaboratively in small interprofessional teams to respond to a series of rural emergency healthcare scenarios.

RESULTS: Qualitative and quantitative evaluation data was collected from student participants over two years utilising a pre- and post-test quasi experimental design. Results demonstrated a positive shift in students' understanding of interprofessional practice and the roles and skills of other health professions. There was also an increase in the value ascribed by students to collaboration and team work as a way of problem solving and improving patient outcomes.

CONCLUSION: The project evaluation indicated the importance of developing a sustainable and embedded interprofessional rural module within the undergraduate health science curriculum. The project evaluation findings also point to some of the strengths and limitations of implementing interprofessional education activities in a rural setting.

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