An Innovative Immersion Population Health Experience

By:  Meg Zomorodi (@MegZ4UNC)

A recent blog post by Dr. Brenda Zierler gave a definition and history of interprofessional education (IPE) that illustrates how IPE has evolved over the last decade.

Since the interprofessional core competencies were broadened in 2016 to focus on the Quadruple Aim and population health, we have witnessed a paradigm shift from the majority of experiences being in acute care institutions to ones that prepare graduates in population health assessment and community health and prevention.

These changes, paired with guidance from the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education provide an exciting opportunity for educators and clinicians to partner in novel ways to achieve better health.

For this blog post, I’d like to share an example of how our team has designed an innovative immersion population health experience for interprofessional health professions students.  The purpose is to equip students with the skills to become collaborative practice ready while also working with community partners.

I can confidently say this has been the most rewarding work as a faculty member and I am fortunate to have an amazing team who has helped build a program that feels like a true win-win for students and communities.

The Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative (RIPHI) once began as an interprofessional population health course designed as part of my Macy Faculty Scholars work, but expanded thanks to generous support from the Kenan Charitable Trust.

From the beginning, this work was uniquely designed as intentional IPE, with participating faculty from 7 health professional schools contributing to content, course and activity design, and evaluation measures.

It is critical to take a moment to point out the collaborative nature of this process. Often, we make a misstep by not engaging all of the professions in the design of the course. Even if you consider yourself a collaborative person who lives and breathes interprofessional education, you still have a bias that is your own professional self. My advice is to engage your partners early to avoid any potential missteps.

The Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative takes a multifaceted approach to maximize the Quadruple Aim through interprofessional quality improvement work. It is comprised of three components:

1) training modules focused on interprofessional population health management for students

2) healthcare professional support through clinical site development

3) a clinical immersion experience to implement and evaluate a high-impact improvement project (HIP) in selected community, home health, and primary care practices;

The Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative provides a unique experience for students and healthcare professionals to work together to address population-based clinical problems in rural communities.

The didactic content utilizes a blended learning format with 8 online modules:

Module 1: Population Health through an Interprofessional Lens
Module 2: Quality Care in Interprofessional Teams
Module 3: Needs Assessment
Module 4: Care Coordination and Collaboration
Module 5: Working Interprofessionally to address Health Disparities
Module 6: Better Together: Patient and Community Engagement
Module 7: Engaging Teams to reduce costs
Module 8: Epidemiology

One of the unique features of this program is the engagement of faculty champions from each school.

Each Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative champion is assigned to a student team and works with them throughout the didactic and clinical immersion semesters. Champions work closely with the identified clinical sites to provide dual support for the healthcare professionals and students on the team. They also serve as role models for the students in their own profession (i.e. if a nursing student needs advice on their own role development, they are supported by the Rural Interprofessional Health Initiative champion from the School of Nursing, in addition to their practice site champion). This model supports interprofessional and intraprofessional development and provides practice sites with a faculty member devoted to the needs of the practice.

At the end of the experience, students complete a reflective paper. These papers highlight a newfound deep appreciation for interprofessional collaboration, the importance of population health, and a broadened view of their own role in healthcare.

As one student commented “my role as a clinician not only includes addressing the patient’s acute medical needs, but helping individuals make choices leading to meaningful lifestyle changes for better health.  By emphasizing health promotion and disease prevention, I can work with my team to help bridge the disparities in health care that exists among diverse socio-economic and ethnic groups by offering low cost primary care services.”

As a health professions educator, I can say that this sounds like a win-win to me.


About the author:

Meg Zomorodi, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN
Assistant Provost and Director Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice
Professor, UNC School of Nursing
Director, Rural Interprofessional Health Initiatives (RIPHI)
Associate Editor, Journal of Interprofessional Education and Practice
Macy Faculty Scholar
Well Care Home Health Faculty Scholar

Thank you to our editor, Bethany Robertson (@bdrclo), for recruiting Meg for this article!


The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For more details on our site disclaimers, please see our ‘About’ page