Campus News

Participants call virtual Interprofessional Forum a success

Concept of collaboration between healthcare professions.

The Interprofessional Forum brings together health sciences students and faculty from a variety of disciplines to collaborate on a case study involving opioid addiction.


Published January 22, 2021

“Even though it was virtual, the students came to the forum well-prepared, were engaged, and showed great teamwork and communication skills. ”
Kelly Foltz-Ramos, assistant professor
School of Nursing

As faculty everywhere review the success of online courses delivered during the pandemic, UB professors in the health sciences can take special pride in their recent achievement in mass digital instruction. On Nov. 5, the Office of Interprofessional Education (IPE) transformed its annual fall forum, which has been devoted to opioid addiction since 2016, to an online event with 887 students and 116 faculty participating.

Until this academic year, the fall Interprofessional Forum was held in person, most recently in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Students come together in small groups to review a case study involving an individual with opioid addiction, or who is suffering from opioid use disorder, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress.” Previous forums attracted upwards of 800 students. However, only about 60 students, who were already enrolled in online or distance-learning programs, took part in past forums virtually. The rest traveled downtown to the Jacobs School, where they gathered in small groups and were led by faculty facilitators.

The 2020 online forum replicated this structure, with small group sessions taking place throughout the day, and students listening to prerecorded remarks by Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein. The forum included students from numerous UB health programs: athletic training, counseling psychology, dental medicine, dietetics, management, medicine, nursing, nurse practitioner, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physical therapy, public health and social work. 

While Patricia Ohtake, associate professor of physical therapy and assistant vice president for interprofessional education, and her colleagues had experience delivering forum content to online students, in November they had to rework their material into an all-digital presentation for a far larger audience without losing educational impact or immediacy. To prepare, students had six hours of online learning in advance of the forum to better understand the opioid epidemic and opioid use disorder. “They also learned about bias and stigma related to substance abuse, which is a very important component for the students to understand,” Ohtake says. “Then they did online learning about interprofessional collaboration. Once they completed all of that — before they actually came together in their small groups — they had some foundational knowledge and understanding, not only of the opioid epidemic, but also of interprofessional collaborative practice.”

Once in small groups, students, who had not previously met their team collaborators, conferred on the assigned case study for 90 minutes while developing a plan of care for the fictional subject, who embodies real-life situations. “They had to identify the most important issues that need to be treated first for this patient,” says Ohtake. “Who is the right health care professional to provide those interventions? How do they sequence the subsequent interventions? The students talk at the individual level. They also look at the population: ‘What can we do in Erie County to improve the population’s health as it relates to the opioid epidemic?’”

The forum’s case study centered on “Ginny,” a 29-year-old woman who is about to be discharged from the emergency department at a Buffalo hospital, having been admitted for an opioid overdose six hours earlier. The case report reveals how Ginny’s personal background exacerbates her addiction crisis stemming from a dentist’s opioid prescription following treatment for an abscessed tooth. “We dive deeper and see her struggles with multiple comorbidities and depression,” says pharmacy student Purnata Anwar. While exploring Ginny’s predicament during the forum, Anwar says she learned about the steps that social workers, for example, would take “to ensure that Ginny gets the help she needs to help not only her dependency, but also [to lessen] her stress as a single mother juggling two jobs.”

From a technical standpoint, students taking part in the Interprofessional (IP) Forum had only to log on to the link provided. Faculty facilitators, on the other hand, had responsibility for technology, since each small group conducted its own Zoom meeting. To ensure success, those planning the forum’s more than 130 small groups offered IT and program support before and during each session. “For instance, we had a ‘just-in-time’ training, where a facilitator could come to that Zoom room and ask questions like, ‘I’m not sure how to do this?’ ‘What do I do here?’ and ‘How does this work?’”

Post-forum evaluations showed that faculty were pleased with both the tech support and learning outcomes, as were participating students. “Over 92% of the students and faculty agreed, or strongly agreed, that we met the learning objectives,” says Ohtake. “For the students, that [measure] was actually even higher compared to our in-person classes. So that was a real win. Moreover, 96% of the faculty agreed, or strongly agreed, that students in their small group sessions were engaged.”

In fact, about half of the students had previously participated in an in-person IP forum. When asked what format they preferred — to be physically present or take part in a virtual experience — 62% preferred the online version, Ohtake says.

Kelly Foltz-Ramos, assistant professor of nursing, agrees that the fall IP forum was especially successful. “Even though it was virtual, the students came to the forum well-prepared, were engaged, and showed great teamwork and communication skills,” says Foltz-Ramos. “Students came to the forum with their own prior knowledge of the opioid epidemic, as well as information they learned in the pre-work. Working through the case study and learning how to collaboratively treat this patient really brought the problem to life.”

“It was enlightening,” she says, “to see how students from different professions respectfully discussed their priorities and how they were able to come together as a team to plan comprehensive patient-centered care.”