Collaborative Program Emphasizes Team-Based Learning Between Nursing and Medical School Students

October 8, 2009

A new collaborative initiative between Penn State’s School of Nursing (SON) and Penn State College of Medicine (COM) brings together nursing students and medical students in a team-based approach to reducing medical errors and associated costs. The program, one of just six in the nation funded by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, will join medical and nursing students at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in a series of workshops that focus on safety and quality issues.

“In the health care setting, doctors and nurses must work together every day, so it makes sense to educate nursing students and medical school students together to solve problems and improve performance,” says Dr. Mary Beth Clark, assistant professor of nursing, Penn State Hershey campus coordinator for the School of Nursing and co-manager of the program. “It has been shown in numerous studies that health care teams with strong communication skills work more effectively and can reduce medical errors. Better teamwork means better health care.”

The School of Nursing and the College of Medicine will collaborate to design a series of two workshops for nursing and medical students. The workshops will emphasize and integrate three values of quality training: it should be interprofessional, team-based, and oriented toward application. The initiative, titled “Developing the Next Generation of Quality and Safety Leaders: An Evaluation of Team-Based and Inter-Professional Education,” is funded until December 2010 and will be managed jointly by Clark and Dr. Paul Haidet, director of medical education research in the Penn State College of Medicine.

The workshops’ focus on real-world applications of knowledge aims to increase students’ decision-making abilities while fostering a collaborative approach to problem solving. For instance, the students will review documented cases from Hershey in which there are several possible solutions. The students will then propose their own solutions and constructively critique the other students’ solutions.

“The collaborative approach will ensure that students operate under the same set of assumptions, which will increase the chances that attempts to improve health care quality are streamlined and effective. And, because nurses and doctors regularly work together in the field, participating in these workshops will better prepare them,” says Dr. Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of the School of Nursing.

“Teamwork doesn’t just happen. Effective teamwork, especially in high-intensity situations, is a discipline that must be learned and practiced,” says Harold L. Paz, M.D., chief executive officer of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, and dean of the College of Medicine. “Penn State has a rich tradition of using innovative team-based instruction to educate the next generation of healthcare professionals. This program builds on that tradition and reflects the history of collaboration between our College of Medicine and the School of Nursing.”

After students complete their participation in the program, SON and COM will evaluate the workshops in an effort to refine the curriculum. The workshops will then be repeated in the fall 2010 semester.

Other project sites, which COM and SON will collaborate with frequently during their project, include Case Western Reserve University, University of Missouri - Columbia, Johns Hopkins University, University of Colorado Denver, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.


Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or