Interprofessional Communication

McMaster offers a lot of activities for health care students to develop their interprofessional communications skills. This would be to encourage doctors, nurses, midwives, occupational therapists, physiotherapists (and beyond) to work together more collaboratively. This has impacts for worker efficiency (better communication means that patient/client information and needs are more accurately transferred when necessary) and ultimately, to brings down barriers for clients/patients; if the health care workers are talking to each other and respecting each other’s skillsets, then patients will get better care.

Patients won’t have to repeat themselves five times to share their history. They won’t be caught between two different care providers who can’t find a common ground or don’t understand each other.

McMaster is cool in that it is a leading university in this educational approach. And health care needs this approach. The school offers Communications Skills Labs that bring together students from all health faculties, and forces them to address real patient/client scenarios TOGETHER. Each program requires that their students partake (we do 3 involuntarily, and 3 we can choose on our own), and an independent evaluator looks at how you communicate together and gives you feedback.

It’s scary as shit.

I did a Skills Lab session last night. It involved cooperative work between two midwifery students (me and another colleague), a first year medical student, and a first year physiotherapy student. As a group, we were given a scenario where a woman was seeking care for back pain during her pregnancy.

Before the client entered, we were given the opportunity to arrange the room how we thought would best accommodate our client with back pain. The medical student took charge of the conversation (based on several sometimes unfair assumptions made of medical doctors, this would not be surprising to some). He confidently said we should put the patient on the bed and immediately I could see a difference in language and approach. Midwives don’t use the word “patient”, because we don’t consider birth to be an “illness” or “a thing that needs treatment”. Birth is a normal, life process, and the people we care for are clients.

So back to the med student. I asked if he thought her backpain would make it difficult for her to get on the bed. His response, “Well that’s just how we always do it right. Plus if she can walk then she should be fine right?”


When I gently suggested that our client may be more comfortable on a lower chair, due to her backpain, he stared at me dumbfounded. I mentioned that midwifery practice typically has lower beds for pregnant women to be examined on, that we typically talk to people in chairs face-to-face before examination to build rapport. I added again, kindly, that she may have problems getting up onto a bed that was raised to MY HIP.

He said he found that fascinating.
I literally blew his mind.

He said he never considered another way; that physicians are just taught to examine a patient from the right, on a bed, because that’s how it’s always done.

More fascinating to me was to see how the different professions approach something as simple as welcoming a client into a room. We agreed to let the client decide where she wanted to sit. It wasn’t up to us!

The rest of the scenario ended up being one where there was suspected abuse, and I was pleased to see the immediate effect and benefit of our class discussions in the midwifery, Working Across Differences class. In that class, we talk a lot about the right language to use with various groups who are different from us; almost everything from sexual abuse, to the queer community, to body image in pregnancy.

The Skills Lab gave me some really great practice that went beyond theoretical class discussion, but having both together during my first year made me feel more prepared for the real thing. A good start, anyway, but a lot more learning to go!


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