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Allied Health Students Team up in Interprofessional Event

students in the dental hygiene, dietetic tech and nursing programs
Rebecca A. Eckland

A recent inter-departmental and interprofessional event between the Dental Hygiene, Dietary Technician, and Nursing Programs shed light on the need for these future professionals to understand health and patient-centered care as multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. “It isn’t just about the mouth,” said Dental Hygiene BAS student Amy Ackerly, who participated in the Oct. 22 event. “Of course, that’s where [dental hygiene] focuses on, but we also have to be very knowledgeable about the rest of the body. This event, along with a class on interprofessional communication, has helped me to realize that understanding health requires that you factor in people’s medications, their systemic conditions, and how all of those things pertain to [overall health and well-being],” she said. 

The Interprofessional Collaborative Event brought together students from three allied health fields to work collaboratively on a single case study. The event began with students from Nursing, Dental Hygiene and Dietetic Technician Programs working intraprofessionally (among their respective majors) before they were organized into interdisciplinary groups to develop a holistic and patient-centered care plan. 

Ackerly, who is in her penultimate semester in the Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) program in Dental Hygiene, saw the event as an opportunity to synthesize what she has been learning in classroom and clinical settings so far. One of fourteen students in the four-year Dental Hygiene Program, Ackerly could see the value in adding multiple perspectives to promote a patient’s wellbeing and continued health. 

“It was a really good experience, especially in letting other healthcare professionals know our scope of practice and how knowledgeable [each] professional is. A lot of breaking down barriers between these different disciplines starts with the educational aspect, which [dental hygiene students] have been fortunate enough to experience this semester with the interprofessional communication class we have taken, and also with this event. This has let us know how valuable each of our input is on a patient’s care plan,” she said. 

Multiple Professional Perspectives

Imara Infante is in her final semester of the AAS Dietetic Technician program, a degree that prepares graduates directly for the workforce. As a Dietetic Technician, Infante will work under the direction of a Registered Dietitian helping to educate patients on how to meet their nutritional needs. The Interprofessional Collaborative Event offered her an opportunity to see how examining various aspects of a patient’s health with other healthcare professionals can truly produce a patient-centered care plan that optimizes ongoing health. 

Infante noted there were times when different professional perspectives offered insights into a patient’s needs. “It was a great opportunity to work together as a team,” she said. “For example, dental hygienists would examine the images included in the case study of the patient’s mouth. And it was interesting to see, based on the images, they were able to highlight certain health problems the patient was experiencing, and they were able to refer the patient back to their doctor, and the nurses who work under the doctor were better able to care for the patient. And then, if they were malnourished, we could refer them to nutritional counseling,” she explained. 

Working in this collaborative environment, Infante said she could appreciate how a patient-centered care plan was created using the expertise of different medical professionals to paint not only a holistic picture of the patient’s health but also a plan that could include prescriptions, education, and referrals to other professionals to support health in the long-term. 

For Infante, this profession offers her a way to not only support a patient’s health but also their quality of life. “I want everyone to be able to enjoy food no matter what their health status is, or what stage of life they are. I have a passion for food and for providing opportunities for others to have a high quality of life,” she said.

Cheyanne Fleck, a nursing student, also said that the multiple perspectives offered by the Interprofessional Collaborative Event offered her a revised view of what it meant to promote a patient’s health and wellbeing. “As a nurse, it’s really easy just to focus on the patient’s medical issues, but it was good to see how different aspects of a patient, like their dietary needs or how oral hygiene can play a role in what is going on with a patient’s health,” Fleck said. 

Attending the case study, nursing students like Fleck learned how the detection of abnormalities in the mouth of the patient could serve as indicators of possible medical conditions, and how a patient’s diet could be a part of an ongoing patient-centered treatment plan. 

“It’s important to utilize other health care professionals when it comes to creating a patient-centered care plan,” said Ackerly.

Healers as Educators

Students who participated in the Interprofessional Collaborative Event also experienced firsthand the important role education plays in providing patient-centered care. “Each of the healthcare professions that were represented that day had a focus on education,” Ackerly said. “I didn’t realize this was going into dental hygiene, but that’s a big aspect of what we do—we educate patients on proper dental hygiene practices. And that is also true for nursing and dietetic tech: in each of these professions, it’s also about teaching the patient how to take better care of themselves.” 

Ackerly came to TMCC with an educational background; she received her first bachelor’s degree in 2009 from the University of Maine at Farmington. Although she remains passionate about education, she also decided to pursue a dental hygiene degree after moving to the Reno area. The smaller class sizes and the collaborative environment of TMCC’s Dental Hygiene Program have contributed to Ackerly’s ongoing success. And yet, unexpectedly, her degree in dental hygiene is not only bringing her back to her educational roots, but is enabling her to find ways to give back. 

“I really want to be able to give back in some way,” she said. “This semester, we focused a lot on how we can organize community programs that we can implement. In fact, another student and I were able to implement one of our oral hygiene education programs into a first and second-grade classroom. That was really rewarding for me to incorporate my education degree and my education in dental hygiene… and I’ve come to realize that being able to give back to people, educating them on the importance of maintaining their health is something that I’d like to do in the future… to donate my skills and my time to people in need.” 

Although the majors of the students who participated in the Interprofessional Collaborative Event were varied, one common experience was gratitude for dedicated instructors who provide real-life experiences to develop the skills graduates will need in the workplace. “TMCC is just really wonderful to its students, there’s a lot of one-on-one attention from the professors, and you also have the opportunity to get close to your classmates, so you can study and network with other students. And finally, you have so many opportunities to network with professionals in the community, too,” said Infante. “ All of that really amplifies what you learn in the classroom.” 

Dental Hygiene Program Director Lori McDonald said that the event will definitely happen in future years, helping students in these varied disciplines to learn collaborative skills and the ability to work together towards one common goal: patient-centered care. "The event was very successful, and moving forward we will be keeping the same format utilizing a patient case study shared by all students from the three programs," she said. "This event helped the students to have a better understanding of the other disciplines' scope of practice with whom they collaborated. By broadening the students' knowledge and awareness of the disciplines they were working with, it helped them to gain mutual respect, trust, and communication skills for the other disciplines. The primary goal with interprofessional collaboration is to work together as a team that is respectful of all members, share common goals and responsibilities, communicate effectively... [all of which] which guides the team for treating their patients through patient-centered care. This event opportunity is for the students accepted into these programs to prepare them for their professions in the workforce."

For more information about the Interprofessional Collaborative Event, contact the TMCC Dental Hygiene Program at 775-673-8247.