Kieran Walsh: Do you believe in interprofessional education?

Do you believe in interprofessional education? Do you believe in problem based learning? Do you believe in objective structured clinical examinations? Do you believe in reflection in action? Or reflection on action? Do you believe in the NHS? Do you believe in NICE? What do you believe in?

When I first moved to the UK I was surprised to be regularly bombarded by questions on my beliefs in worldly matters. Not since a question and answer session with the bishop at my confirmation had I received such a searching appraisal of what I believed in. The bishop demanded a straight answer to a straight question and, times being what they were, he usually got one. But to my secular inquisitors I never answered yes or no, and this seemed only to infuriate them and to generate further questions. The last question was usually—you don’t believe in anything, do you?

So this is my turn to get my own back and ask some questions of my own. Why do we ask people if they believe in institutions, concepts, ideas, theories, models? Why is it necessary to have beliefs in any of these things? Why do we group people into believers and non-believers? Why do we treat certain institutions like modern gods? If anyone has any answers, I would be really interested—I have no idea.

Do I believe in interprofessional education? I think it is probably a silly question. And I would say that even if I was asked by a professor of interprofessional education, Jeremy Paxman, or a bishop. Interprofessional education is far too complex to be reduced to something that you can or cannot believe in. In certain circumstances, it can enable better communication and better teamworking and can lead to improved patient care. In other circumstances, learners are left feeling that they have received content that is just not right for them—maybe too hard or too easy—or maybe in the wrong format.

Interprofessional education was mentioned a number of times at the recent annual meeting of the Academy of Medical Educators. Task shifting was another buzzword at the meeting—we are likely to hear more about this concept over the next few years. It means moving a task to a member of a different profession who can then perform the task more efficiently or at a lower cost. It can be done, but beware those who promise massive savings as a result—they are rarely forthcoming. Interprofessional education cannot work in isolation. Health professionals may learn in interprofessional settings but if they practice in uniprofessional teams their learning will soon be lost. The two must be integrated.

What forms of medical education do I believe in? I believe that beliefs have their place. But that they shouldn’t have much of a place when we are making decisions about how we deliver medical education. Here evidence should trump belief.

Competing interests: Kieran Walsh works for BMJ Learning and Quality—the medical education and quality improvement division of BMJ.

Kieran Walsh is clinical director of BMJ Learning—the education service of the BMJ Group. He is responsible for the editorial direction of BMJ Online Learning, BMJ Masterclasses, and BMJ onExamination. He has written two books—the first on cost and value in medical education and the second a dictionary of medical education quotations. He has worked in the past as a hospital doctor – specialising in care of the elderly medicine and neurology.