November 24, 2014

There are 22 million veterans nationwide, including more than 600,000 in Washington state, yet less than half receive their health care through facilities managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That means no matter where tomorrow’s health professionals practice, at some point they will be caring for veterans.

One of the most effective treatment plans for post-combat veterans is to enlist a team of cross-disciplinary health providers who know how to work together and who value a collaborative approach. This idea is at the core of the University’s Interprofessional Education initiative. IPE uses curricula and training opportunities to educate and engage health sciences students from six disciplines—dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work. 

“Whether we are social workers, dentists or pharmacists, we are often only trained in our own discipline,” said Taryn Lindhorst, Carol LaMare Associate Professor of Social Work. “IPE shows students from different disciplines how to work together so later they can function more effectively when practicing in the field. We are moving from a team of experts to an expert team.” 

A recent IPE session focused on veterans’ care, sponsored by the Health Sciences Foundations IPE group and held the day before Veterans Day. Case studies and small group discussions on post-combat health issues followed panel discussions with veterans, who are also health sciences program students, and with IPE faculty from the six health sciences professional schools.

Many health providers are not trained to ask about military service so common health concerns might get overlooked, which could have long-term negative impacts. One panel composed of three military veterans, including former U.S. Army medic and current MSW student Paul Stayback, (pictured above) shared tips for working with veterans. “Older vets might not even define themselves as vets anymore,” said Stayback. “For them, the question should be: Were you ever in the military, not are you a vet?” 

Stayback views his military background as great training for a social work career. “In the Army, you don’t just look out for each other on the battlefield, but in life as well,” said the veteran who began his studies after leaving the service in 2009. “Social work made sense for me since I was used to working with people in emotional and physical distress.”  

Last spring an IPE-sponsored event focusing on veterans’ health care received positive student feedback. “I thought this was by far the best session of the year,” commented one student. “Veterans benefit from a team approach,” said another. “Many issues cut through many different disciplines.”
Military training taught Stayback the value of working as a team. Thanks to the UW focus on interprofessional education, his fellow health science students are learning how a collaborative approach can provide veterans with the best possible care.