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Year : 2007  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 136

Report on an Interdisciplinary Program for Allied Health

University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, USA

Date of Submission16-Nov-2007
Date of Web Publication24-Nov-2007

Correspondence Address:
S M Peloquin
301 University Blvd. Galveston Texas 77555-1142
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 18080966

Rights and PermissionsRights and Permissions

Context: A central recommendation from the Pew Health Commission to educators has been to empower future care providers to function effectively as teams. Administrators and faculty members within a school of allied health sciences thus established an interdisciplinary program where students would learn to function as team members and demonstrate competencies required for practice in diverse, demanding, and continually changing health care environments. Students from five disciplines have participated in featured events, mentored activities and capstone projects, earning credit in an interdisciplinary course of study that complements offerings in their home disciplines.
Goal: This follow-up article reports on the progress and development since 2002 of an interdisciplinary program known as Team IDEAL. Formative evaluation measures used to assess satisfaction with the program are presented alongside a discussion of new directions.
Conclusion: Team IDEAL will move forward in a streamlined form that reflects its central aim. IDEAL leadership will remain cognizant of the effects of discipline-specific curricular changes, complex programming, and student perspectives on the process interdisciplinary education.

Keywords: Education, teamwork, workplace competencies

How to cite this article:
Peloquin S M, Cavazos H, Marion R, Stephenson K S, Pearrow D. Report on an Interdisciplinary Program for Allied Health. Educ Health 2007;20:136

How to cite this URL:
Peloquin S M, Cavazos H, Marion R, Stephenson K S, Pearrow D. Report on an Interdisciplinary Program for Allied Health. Educ Health [serial online] 2007 [cited 2022 Nov 27];20:136. Available from:


Throughout the 1990s, the Pew Health Professions Commission (1995, 1998), Shugars et al. (1991) and Finocchio et al. (1995) argued the need to educate future care providers to function effectively on health care teams. Concurring, faculty in the School of Allied Health Sciences (SAHS) at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) designed an interdisciplinary curriculum known as Team IDEAL (Interdisciplinary Education and Advanced Learning). The purpose of this article is to update readers on the development, formative evaluation, and modification of Team IDEAL since a first article on its origins was published (Stephenson et al., 2002).


Curricular Process and Leadership

Leadership for the establishment of Team IDEAL has evolved over three phases of development. Table 1 presents an overview of each phase, noting the leadership groups and processes associated with each phase.

During the Refinement and Management phase, a Team IDEAL Board was established, constituted by the school’s dean and academic dean (chair and de facto executive director), all departmental chairs, the chair of the faculty assembly, a curriculum committee representative, student representatives, and faculty volunteers who had served on prior committees. A Team IDEAL course coordinator was recruited to provide support and coordination. A smaller Team IDEAL Work Group emerged composed of the academic dean, coordinator, assistant dean for academic affairs, and the rotating chair of the Board. The Work Group sets agendas for and makes proposals to the Board, completes tasks assigned to its members, and pragmatically meets needs arising between monthly Board meetings.

Table 1. Leadership Process and Functions over Time

Overview of the Team Ideal Curriculum

The SAHS offers baccalaureate degrees in clinical laboratory science and respiratory care, and master’s degrees in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and physician assistant studies. Beginning in Fall 2002, rather than engaging students in IDEAL offerings outside of course offerings, two one-hour Team IDEAL courses became requirements for all students.

Students are assigned a departmental academic advisor and he/she helps students design an individualized plan of IDEAL activities related to 12 competencies: establishment of a caring environment; communication; critical thinking; cultural awareness; documentation; foundational knowledge; knowledge of health care delivery systems; legal, ethical, and moral actions; management; professional role development; research; and teamwork. (Stephenson et al., 2002). Each IDEAL activity has a pre-established value, measured in a certain number of “stars” and deals with one or more of the competencies. Three categories of learning activities earn stars: featured events; mentored activities; and capstone projects.

Featured events

Featured events are large group learning activities during which students work on the same set of learning goals exploring case studies or a topic of interest that cuts across disciplines. Featured events are scheduled throughout the academic year. Examples of featured events in recent years have included sessions on spirituality in health care, professional development practices, health care disparities, cultural issues, bioterrorism, communication competencies, casework, preparing for a first job, and alternative medicine.

Mentored activities

Faculty members develop mentored activities based on their passion for a topic or experience and offer it to small interdisciplinary groups. Students select several mentored activities from a variety of offerings. Currently 38 faculty have been involved in offering 79 activities. Examples of mentored activities include spirometry testing, a community immunization project, interactive development of communication skills, journal writing, and topics such as integrative health, home safety, and health in the workplace.

Capstone Projects

Capstone projects are community-based activities developed by a student team in collaboration with a faculty and/or a community mentor. Students develop a capstone proposal. The proposal is reviewed and approved by the coordinator and the project’s community sponsor. In preparing the proposal, students justify and document the need for the project. They identify projected outcomes, a means for evaluating the project, anticipated leadership roles, and learning outcomes for all team members. Upon completing the project, students submit individual reports on the results of their work as well as reflections on their experiences.

Many of these projects have been completed in low-income and culturally diverse settings, such as a pediatric health day presentation on childhood obesity, a health care "carnival" to decrease fear of health professionals and equipment, glucose and cholesterol screening, smoking cessation education, and presentations on healthy eating choices and nutrition to kindergartners.

Formative Evaluation

Feedback from students and faculty have been sought through formative evaluation processes via several data sources. Web-based evaluation forms have been used to assess featured events and mentored activities. Reflections about each community-based capstone project are written by students and are regularly reviewed by the coordinator. The Office of Student Affairs (OSA) conducts annual assessments of graduating students and reports spontaneous comments about Team IDEAL to the Board.

During the spring of 2006, we sponsored an all student forum. The university’s vice president for student services moderated the discussion as an objective third party. The aim was to hear all student concerns and to answer questions in an open and frank manner. Most significant among the concerns and our responses are listed on Table 2. Student issues were brought to the Work Group and a proposal for changes was submitted to the Board and to the SAHS faculty assembly for approval. The changes were: 1) simplification of content and processes; 2) establishment of a more realistic relationship between the time commitment required and the amount of credit given; 3) enhanced student choice relative to their engagement in service activities, and 4) retention of the best of interdisciplinary activities.

Faculty input into the curriculum’s operations has been ongoing. Recent faculty concerns have been: 1) difficulty in motivating advisees to complete IDEAL plans and requirements, 2) amount of work required to organize and sponsor IDEAL activities in spite of support from staff, and 3) scheduling challenges posed by the difficulty experienced by some disciplines in honoring the two-hour block of protected time for IDEAL events.

Table 2. Student Concerns Addressed Through Formative Evaluations

Lessons Learned

Our venture into school-wide interdisciplinary and community-based education has been growth-inducing and challenging. In 2002 (Stephenson et al.), we published a list of lessons learned, and we add these to the original list:

  1. Recognize that program development will be affected by an ever-changing group of planners who may embrace the ideal of collaborative teams but hold divergent views about methodology. Frequently discuss a clear definition of interdisciplinary education and continually revisit the purpose and anticipated outcomes of the effort.

  2. Understand that a team of health care educators trying to foster interdisciplinary learning will experience all of the challenges faced by teams everywhere. Never underestimate the amount of time that it will take to achieve consensus.

  3. Understand that curricular upgrades in any of the disciplines, whether related to higher degree requirements or the institution of distance learning, will constrain student availability and challenge interdisciplinary efforts.

  4. Enfranchise students as vested partners on the educational team whose satisfaction matters. Find ways to empower students to give input into proposed changes and to voice concerns as they emerge.

  5. Monitor educational programming and systems of recording lest they become so complex that they are perceived as obstacles for engaging in the program.

We might summarize lessons learned about Team IDEAL that we would pass on to others as follows: Cling to the ideal. Clarify the aim. Simplify the method. Anticipate problems. Check in often. Make timely changes. Persevere.


The authors wish to acknowledge the efforts of the following individuals who serve or have served on the Team IDEAL Board: Ms. Nadara Bishop-Reed, Dean Charles H. Christiansen, Dr. Vicki Freeman, Ms. Allison Horner, Ms. Melinda Jensen, Dr. Jon Nilsestuen, Dr. Elizabeth Protas, Dr. Richard Rahr, Dr. Gretchen Stone, Dr. Carolyn Utsey, Dr. David Wise.


Finocchio, L.J., Dower, C.M., McMahon, T., Gragnola, C.M., & The Task Force on Health Care Workforce Regulation. (1995). Reforming health care workforce regulation: policy considerations for the 21st century. San Francisco, CA: Pew Health Professions Commission.

Pew Health Professions Commission. (1998). Recreating Health Professional Practice for a New Century. Pew Charitable Trust, San Francisco, CA.

Pew Health Professions Commission. (1995). Critical Challenges: Revitalizing the Health Care Professions for the 21st Century. UCSF Center for the Health Professions, San Francisco, CA.

Shugars, D.A., O’Neil, E.H., & Baker, J.D., eds. (1999). Healthy America: Practitioners for 2005, an Agenda for Action for U.S. Health Professional Schools. The Pew Health Professions Commission, Durham, N C.

Stephenson, K. S., Peloquin, S. M., Richmond, S. A., Hinman, M. R., Christiansen, C. H. (2002). Changing Educational Paradigms to Prepare Allied Health Professionals for the 21st Century. Education for Health, 15, 37-49.


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