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Health care students experience interdisciplinary training in and out of the classroom at Ohio University

It's a Friday night in October and local football fans are packed into the high school stadium, holding a collective breath as they watch a player from the home team get loaded onto a stretcher after a violent tackle. The athletic trainer is telling the EMT about the injury. The audience may not realize it, but they are watching a perfect example of teamwork in health care.

After being transported to the emergency room, the patient will see nurses, physicians and radiologists. His care may eventually include surgeons and physical therapists. Each health care professional he sees will be an expert in their own field, but if they lack basic understanding of other specialties, their care will not be as effective as they work together.  

Health care professional students at Ohio University take part in interdisciplinary training for this exact reason. By knowing more about other medical disciplines, professionals are able to communicate effectively and efficiently about patient care. 

John McCarthy, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) at Ohio University, has taught classes in interprofessional education and uses scenarios like the football injury to illustrate to students how different specialties play a role in health care. 

In one of his classes, he hoped to challenge the stereotypes of various health care professions by asking his students to say what they thought of each one. The answers given by the students ranged from social workers removing kids from homes to physical therapists just making people work out. 

“They ended up being very superficial understandings of professions. These were people who were going to be nurses and they still kind of had that idea or concept of another profession. So, we need to confront those right away in classes,” McCarthy said. 

Ohio University offers multiple options for interdisciplinary training for future health care professionals. There are certificates and courses available through different colleges, and students may even take courses outside of their specific college. For example, a student in the nursing school may earn the Interprofessional Care Certificate through the Department of Interdisciplinary Health Studies in addition to their degree through the College of Health Sciences and Professions. 

Outside of the classroom

OHIO also has plenty of educational experiences for students outside the traditional classroom. Daniel Skinner, Ph.D., is an associate professor of health policy with the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and leads a spring break trip in Cuba for students seeking a health degree. 

Skinner said that the purpose of the trip isn’t hands-on experience but learning about humanity in medicine. The facilities the students visit in Cuba might not have the same resources they are accustomed to in the United States, making teamwork in health care more vital. 

“It allows them to learn about all the different people involved in promoting health care in another place,” Skinner said. 

The trip prompts conversations between students that break down the borders between health care disciplines and countries. OHIO students come together with those seeking medical degrees in Cuba and learn more about their experiences. Skinner said students begin to realize that each discipline may have its own stresses and pressures but that health care students all share similar struggles and passions.

“It’s a very humanizing thing that medical students realize that medical students everywhere are all the same,” Skinner said. “It’s beautiful to see them do that.” 

OHIO students also learn about teamwork in health care through health care simulations on campus.  Both Heritage College and CHSP host their own simulation suites designed and equipped like hospitals or other health care facilities. During training, the students run through medical care scenarios, including identifying when they would need to work with other health care professionals. 

For example, if a scenario involved a stroke victim who is slurring their speech, the students would need to consult with a speech therapist. The speech therapist student then would come in and may do things like raise the head of the bed so that the patient is more upright for their therapy. This allows all the students to see what each discipline would focus on or need for care. 

Child vaccine clinics 2

Helping vaccinate the community

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Ohio University health care students gained real-life experience that doubled as interdisciplinary training. Heritage Hall, the new home of the Heritage College, served as the mass vaccination site for Athens County. 

The vaccination clinics required volunteers to check people in and guide them through the process, as well as help maintain social distancing protocols and answer any questions that people had. Students from the Heritage College and CHSP filled these roles and worked side by side to help vaccinate the community. 

Ken Johnson, D.O., Heritage College executive dean and Ohio University chief medical affairs officer, said that disease prevention “takes a village.” 

“Ohio University became that village when it came to vaccinating Athens County against COVID-19. Our clinic volunteers comprised students, faculty and staff from more than 12 Ohio University programs of study – from nursing and osteopathic medicine to social work and business. I’m endlessly proud of the interdisciplinary response that we were able to coordinate on behalf of public health,” Johnson said. 

When it was time to begin inoculating children, even more specialties within health care were needed, and child life specialists were brought in to help distract the children and ease the worries of families. 

McCarthy believes that the large number of volunteers during the clinics speaks to the passion that drives people to pursue a health degree, saying health professionals, “want to be actively involved in helping people – they kind of can’t wait for it.”

Ohio’s health care workforce is further supported by Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, which has been ranked among the top 50 medical schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more at

February 8, 2023
Staff reports