People living with chronic health concerns have important life and health care experiences that can enrich interprofessional education (IPE). For 10 years Patient & Community Partnership for Education has coordinated an Interprofessional Health Mentors program (HMP) at the University of British Columbia, Canada. The HMP is an elective educational experience in which teams of students from different disciplines learn from and with a mentor who has a chronic condition or disability, or is a caregiver. The program provides learning relevant to interprofessional competencies with an emphasis on patient/client-centred collaborative practice.
The HMP provides a flexible option for IPE, not only in timing (groups schedule their own meetings) but in the way academic credit is assigned (each program determines how it fits into their existing curriculum). Approximately 50 mentors and 200 students participate each year. Mentors have a wide range of physical and mental health diseases/disabilities. Students are from audiology, clinical psychology, dentistry, dietetics, genetic counselling, nursing, kinesiology, medicine, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology. Over 9 months the groups (3-4 students and a mentor) form self-directed learning communities that explore different topics in which the health mentor is an expert, such as living with a chronic condition or disability, accessing the health care system, and interactions with a health care team.
The program has been a laboratory to study the effects of patient involvement in IPE. Learning outcomes assessed through interviews with students 3-4 years post-program show that the HMP helps students commit to patient partnership and interprofessional collaboration. Results from a survey of 72 mentors indicate that they experience a range of benefits including personal growth and development associated with the longitudinal, reciprocal relationships they develop with the students. Engaging patients as mentors in IPE can be transformative for both students and patients.