Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Project Mainstream: Lessons Learned
Eugene P. Schoener, PhD, Wayne State University and Theresa E. Madden, DDS, Oregon Health Sciences University.
Purpose: To evaluate the interdisciplinary aspects of the faculty development experience of Project MAINSTREAM, which was designed explicitly to promote interdisciplinary collaboration. Faculty members applied for and were selected for the two-year Fellowship in multidisciplinary teams of three that were required to conduct joint educational and clinical or field projects. Thirty-nine faculty in thirteen Interdisciplinary Faculty Learning Groups (IFLG) received substance abuse specific training and then were asked to design collaborative curricular experiences, and to conduct clinic- or community-based projects together. Method: The Fellows were surveyed approximately one year after completing the Fellowship using extensive written questionnaires and hour-long telephone interviews for which they were compensated. Interdisciplinary items were imbedded among other items pertaining to mentoring, collaboration and distance learning. Items that addressed interdisciplinary collaboration for health/human service professional training comprised four main domains of interest: benefits, advantages, barriers and drawbacks. The fellows were asked further to compare and rate multidisciplinary versus single disciplinary approaches on 17 sub-items. With a 92% rate of completed surveys, a rich set of qualitative and quantitative data were obtained. Results: Overall, the respondents rated the interdisciplinary Fellowship experiences as very positive. They indicated that their colleagues, supervisors, institutional administrators and trainees all valued the interdisciplinary approaches they employed, although there was a wide variance in support from each of these groups. The Fellows themselves consistently reported great benefits from the experience in terms of cross training, additional academic and research collaboration, and institutional impact. Among the large number of advantages that were identified included: learning about how other disciplines view and deal with substance abuse; reaching a greater number of trainees, especially those of different disciplines, more opportunity to work with others on issues of common interest, and ultimately more success in academic efforts. Fellows did not believe that “turf” issues impacted on their work, nor did they find it difficult to learn the language of other disciplines. Among the identified obstacles were: greater scheduling challenges, and concerns regarding being rewarded for their interdisciplinary work by their academic institutions. Implications: Feedback from Project MAINSTREAM Fellows provides critical information for the design and implementation of future interdisciplinary academic training programs for health and human service professionals.