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Challenges and constraints

It is clear from the wide range of literature available on interprofessional learning (IPL) that the potential benefits are great, not only to patients and clients, but also to learners, educators and other stakeholders. It would seem that the workplace, including the clinical environment, would be an appropriate place to bring learners together in interprofessional groups or teams. After all, they are working together collaboratively and so learning together would seem logical. But is it so easy?

Thinking point

  • What do you think some of the difficulties might be in introducing IPL into the workplace?


There are many challenges to teachers, clinicians and practitioners, and to educational managers and planners. ‘Although interprofessional education (IPE) has been strongly advocated as improving interprofessional communication and integrated services and there is a growing body of evidence of its effectiveness in some contexts, there remain significant questions concerning its implementation. These questions include the management of interprofessional learning and logistics, the preparation of teachers and mentors in the workplace, the mix of disciplines and transferability of learning, and resistance from established hierarchical uni-professional training programmes’ (EIPEN, 2008).

Headrick et al. (1998, p. 773) list a number of barriers to interprofessional collaboration and education:

  • differences in history and culture
  • historical intraprofessional and interprofessional rivalries
  • differences in language and jargon
  • differences in schedules and professional routines
  • varying levels of preparation, qualifications and status
  • differences in requirements, regulations and norms of professional education
  • fears of diluted professional identity
  • differences in accountability, payment and rewards
  • concerns regarding clinical responsibility.

Finch (2000) highlights some of the issues for higher education providers, specifically that ‘universities and colleges are eager to work with the health service but require greater clarity about health service objectives’ and that ‘different types of education provision are required, depending on which of the four versions of interprofessional learning is being advocated’ (2000, p. 1138).

Although the paper is positive in suggesting that IPL is a ‘good thing’, she cites a number of barriers to shared learning (and IPL) at the pre-registration stage, including:

  • timetabling
  • different requirements from professional bodies
  • universities not necessarily providing programmes for all the professions
  • different entry requirements and lengths of programme. 

Finch makes a strong case that IPL must reflect real working practices, not just those happening now, but in perhaps five or 10 years hence – as these are the lead-in times for developing new programmes and new schools. 

In clinical and professional learning contexts, Soklaridis et al. note the importance for future doctors to learn from non-doctor role models and teachers, and that IPL may well involve challenging differential power relations and differences (the ‘us and them’) between health professions (2007). Carpenter and Hewstone (1996) evaluated a course for student doctors and social workers based on shared learning. They highlight the potential for power differentials with a number of participants feeling that their learning was compromised, but for different reasons. Mandy et al. (2004) examined whether interprofessional education had any effect on professional stereotype held by first-year undergraduate physiotherapy and podiatry students. One of their findings was that early implementation of interprofessional education appears to reinforce stereotypes, this might be based on deep-rooted psychology, and if this is the case, undoing the stereotypes that exist within professional groups is more complicated than previously thought.

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