Methods: This project was conducted within an ongoing evaluation of a graduate-level course in palliative care for students in nursing, pharmacy, and social work taught by faculty from each discipline. The scope of course content included core knowledge across disciplines, discipline–specific knowledge, and the essential contribution of each discipline in the process of collaborative care planning. The course has been taught for six semesters to 87 students, 23 of them MSW students. In addition to classroom lecture and discussion, students participated in discipline-specific learning groups, and also in interdisciplinary work teams in which they collaborated on a progressive case study that became incrementally more complex over the course of the semester. The interdisciplinary process experience for MSW students was derived from reactions to interdisciplinary team care planning sessions posted by students to threaded discussion on WebCT, discussion during discipline-specific sessions and post-semester focus group sessions. This qualitative content was summarized, read and re-read to identify relevant themes. Themes were organized into categories, and patterns within and between categories were identified. Text was interpreted phenomenologically to illuminate the development of the social work role as team member.
Results: Objective learning outcomes for the course assured mastery of core knowledge and discipline-specific knowledge in students of all disciplines. With respect to interdisciplinary process skill acquisition, two prominent themes emerged within the narratives and discussion content in social work students. The first revealed the social work students' relationship to members of the other disciplines including understanding of other professions' knowledge and scope of practice, the value of role blending, methods of communicating with other professions and respect for and from professionals of other disciplines. The second theme conveyed the social work students' self-representation as a member of their discipline and integrated the unique contribution of social work to care of patient and family, personal confidence and assertiveness, use of self on the team, and an emerging identity as a professional.
Conclusions and Implications: These study findings support the creation of courses that include students from disciplines represented in palliative care. With respect to social work education, careful attention to the developing identify of the social worker as team member through skill practice and content mastery better equips students for real-world practice settings, enhances the perception of social work by other disciplines and may improve interdisciplinary team performance.