Student Run Free Clinics (SRFC’s) serve a role in providing patient care for vulnerable populations. In addition to connecting patients to important social resources, these clinics are often hailed by medical educators for their potential to develop medical student interdisciplinary and social needs education.
The need for interdisciplinary care within vulnerable populations is high as they have greater healthcare needs and experience greater barriers to care. Interdisciplinary care models, as available through student run free clinics, have been shown to have positive outcomes for the care team and the patients. Likewise, collaborative, interprofessional practice settings have a positive effect on planning health education strategies, community collaboration, and evaluating intervention outcomes for their mutual patients.
Despite the demonstrated needs and potential opportunities, interprofessional learning outcomes at SRFC’s are mixed. Self-reported interprofessional attitudes of student members have shown no significant difference between medicine and nursing students towards interprofessional teamwork; however, both these student groups report significantly less positive attitudes towards interprofessional teams than pharmacy and social work students. Medical students reported significantly less positive attitudes towards interprofessional education than all of them.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) Homeless and Indigent Population Health Outreach Project (HIPHOP) Promise Clinic (PC) is an SRFC that serves uninsured patrons of its community partner, Elijah’s Promise Community Kitchen. Since 2015, PC has hosted a first year social work intern who screens for social needs and provides social care for patients in collaboration with medical students. In light of this opportunity, this qualitative study explored what interprofessional practices and attitudes emerged from directly collaborating in patient care.
Focus groups and individual interviews with student doctor teams and current/former social work students were conducted by researchers using standardized, open-ended interviews. Interview guides asked questions regarding individual definitions of interprofessional & collaborative care, interprofessional attitudes, and direct clinical experiences/patient encounters. The focus groups were conducted in person and facilitated by the two investigators. Thematic analysis was used to identify, analyze, and report overall patterns within these data.
Preliminary results showed that despite similar definitions of interdisciplinary care, medical students and social work students operationalized the term differently. There were differences among how each discipline prioritized the needs of their patients (health needs vs. social needs) and how they viewed their role in relation to the other discipline (view as truly collaborative vs. accessory). However, both groups of students reported positive experiences working with one another to provide care in specific patient encounters. Both groups could name a specific encounter in which the other professional student was important in providing holistic, interprofessional care for a PC patient.
Conclusions and Implications
This research affirms previous studies that have suggested student run free clinics offer unique opportunities to develop integrated care attitudes and skills. However, before these partnerships are started between medical and social work schools a shared interdisciplinary model should be established to maximize learning opportunities for both parties.