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Designing Interprofessional Education for Providers: Learning From, With and About Primary Care Teams

About a year ago, we decided to try our hand at preparing educational materials that would help primary care providers work more effectively with the complex and vulnerable populations they typically serve. Up to that point, most of our Center’s efforts were focused on developing interprofessional education materials for students. Working with clinical teams seemed like an important next step – to reach out to providers and learn their challenges and educational needs. 

Since most of my clinical background as a nurse was in primary care and community (I’m a proud member of one of the first graduating cohorts of the University of Rochester nurse practitioner program – circa 1978!), it seemed natural to start there. 

The focus on primary care teams and vulnerable populations also fit well with the preponderance of projects on vulnerable populations, the homeless, the elderly, and individuals with substance use disorders, in the Arizona Nexus with the National Center.

Stories of teams, patients and providers

We started with a few premises – like whatever we developed needed to be real, practical, and useful. Smart enough to know what we didn’t know; we reached out to friends and colleagues to guide us. Nancy Johnson, the amazing CEO of Arizona’s largest community health center, confirmed the need for interprofessional education and offered us access to teams serving extremely challenging populations. 

Our meetings with members of diverse clinical teams were extraordinary – both powerful and very touching. I left some of the discussions inspired and in awe of the commitment and passion of these teams to their populations and community. Several times, I drove home in tears, thinking about the stories I had heard and the daily obstacles these primary care team members address with humor and resolve. They confirmed over and over the importance of their team members – for quality care and their own sense of sanity. And even better, they wanted to work with us to develop an educational model to improve teamwork that they would use themselves.

A Macy President's Award for IPE

Armed with great information and support for the need, we went to the Macy Foundation and asked for funds to move into this new realm of interprofessional education for clinical teams. In January 2018, we were thrilled to receive a Macy President’s Award to create a new prototype for interprofessional education for primary care teams.

Teaming up for vulnerable populations

Within a month, our project was branded, “Team Centered Care for Vulnerable Populations” and our interprofessional academic team was off and running!

Macy President's Award Interprofessional Project Team

Dr. Lise McCoy from AT Still School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOMA) and I partnered as co-PI’s. Lise brings a new world of innovative teaching methods to the project. With loads of past experience in linguistics and cross-disciplinary communication, Nina Karamehmedovic is our expert project coordinator. Specializing in interprofessional education and training, Yvonne Price is our senior instructional designer. Kristen Will, director of executive education for ASU’s College of Health Solutions, physician assistant by profession, and current PhD student, rounds out our interprofessional team.


We’re about eight months into the project. It’s been an exhilarating ride of insights and surprises. One of the commitments my core grant team made was to learn to collaborate effectively with clinical teams. We figured we would need to learn about managing time and input in order to create a sustainable partnership – and boy, have we! 

A not so well-kept secret we’ve had reinforced is that support of clinical leaders is essential. Nancy Johnson’s strong and visible support has been core to our work. The first word that comes to mind for the clinical teams who have joined us in this project is gratitude. They bring their passion for the people they serve to every meeting and they don’t hesitate to remind us what is important, challenging and outright frustrating to them in their teams.

Creative paths, surprising ends

As PI, it’s been one of my best experiences ever in learning to trust the vision and creativity of my academic-clinical project team members. As a preview to the education prototype we’ll share in a few months, I can say that it doesn’t look anything like I envisioned at the beginning. It is so much better.


About the Author

Gerri LambGerri Lamb is the Founding Director of ASU’s Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education & Research and Professor at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. She is committed to supporting the growth of interprofessional initiatives at ASU in collaboration with much-valued academic and clinical partners. She also works to connect local and state activities to the national IPE community in her role as past chair of the American Interprofessional Health Collaborative and liaison to the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education Nexus Innovations Incubator.

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