Stronger together: Pharmacy Prof. Aline Saad deepens WSU Applebaum’s commitment to interprofessional education

Collaborative health care teams are essential to safe and effective patient care. On any given day, for example, a pharmacist working in a hospital might interact with nurses, physician assistants, clinical laboratory scientists, physical therapists, social workers and more — all to ensure the best possible outcome for the patients in their collective care.

Dr. Aline Saad
Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Aline Saad

Preparing students for a collaborative professional environment where they’ll communicate and cooperate across disciplines is the motivation behind interprofessional education (IPE). As one of only a handful of colleges nationwide that houses a PharmD program alongside a range of other professional health care programs, Wayne State’s Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has integrated IPE into its curricula for decades.

In 2019, a faculty taskforce was created to provide even more robust IPE opportunities. And in August 2020 when Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Aline Saad joined the college, she took on the dual roles of director of faculty development and coordinator of IPE.

“We need to make sure we are delivering IPE that is rich in content and speaks to core competencies,” said Saad, who earned her PharmD at WSU Applebaum in 2004. “We have pockets of excellence, and the next step is to integrate IPE into the college’s mission statement and strategic plan so it never feels like icing on top — it needs to be baked inside the cake.”

WSU Applebaum students work on an IPE exercise in Feb. 2020.
Occupational Therapy Program Director Doreen Head works with students from a range of programs on an activity during WSU Applebaum's IPE event in January 2020. 

Saad says that the cross-college workshop In Our Shoes this past January gave her a bridge to work with colleagues on additional opportunities to ensure that IPE is a base ingredient going forward. The two-day virtual event saw 300 students from nine programs working together in teams to assess and address the health care needs of a patient presenting with a fracture, chronic pain, and various other health and mental comorbid diseases.

Another such endeavor is an elective course Wayne State is offering for the first time this fall to students in the College of Nursing, School of Medicine, School of Social Work, and WSU Applebaum’s Doctor of Pharmacy and Physician Assistant Studies programs. Special Topics: Interprofessional Education (offered to our students as PPR 7115 and PAS 7115) is a two-credit course in which PharmD, physician assistant, medicine, nursing and social work students will learn about, with and from each other to improve communication and collaboration during interprofessional decision making in the workplace.

Saad also is expanding IPE education at Wayne State through her involvement with the Michigan Area Health Education’s Michigan AHEC Scholars program. MI-AHEC was established in 2010 to strengthen the state’s health care workforce by recruiting, training and retaining health professionals committed to increasing access to primary care in underserved urban and rural communities through a network of five regional centers statewide.Michigan AHEC Scholars logo

The two-year MI-AHEC Scholars program was designed for health profession students from diverse backgrounds who are interested in gaining additional knowledge and experience in urban or rural underserved communities. Earlier this year, Saad was named as an IPE faculty champion of the MI-AHEC Scholars program and shares that title with Dr. Dennis Tsilimingras from the School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences and Dr. Susan Wiers from the College of Nursing. These IPE faculty champions will help develop the MI-AHEC Scholars curriculum and expand the interprofessional collaboration between Wayne State schools and colleges.

Saad says she is pleased to play a part in building upon the breadth and depth of training for AHEC Scholars such as Megan Keersmaekers, who worked as a registered nurse for 11 years before enrolling in WSU Applebaum’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree program last May.

Because Keersmaekers has been dedicated to community service since her undergraduate days, she says she was drawn to the way AHEC Scholars would broaden her perspective about the needs of Wayne County’s citizens, as well as the resources available to help her better serve the community.

Megan Keersmaekers
Megan Keersmaekers

“I feel that helping people is everyone’s purpose — we just have to decide where our niche is,” Keersmaekers said. “In health care, we’re so busy that we can easily lose sight of what’s important. Both at WSU and through AHEC Scholars, I’ve learned that the best way to make a difference in someone’s life is to provide respect, empathy and meet them where they are.”

She says the online didactic activities she has completed during her first year in AHEC Scholars focused on how to interact with patients from varied religious, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Her second year will offer hands-on practice-transformation opportunities, working in Detroit clinics alongside the 35 other Wayne State students in the program who represent the School of Social Work, College of Nursing and School of Medicine. There are a total of 91 first-year AHEC Scholars at institutions across Michigan, and similar programs throughout the United States.

“AHEC has helped me better understand the challenges underserved community members face and how to improve their overall health care experience,” Keersmaekers said, adding that the experience has meshed well with her physician assistant coursework. “Even though I started at Wayne State at the beginning of the pandemic, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. I really have to commend my program for adapting to the current state of our new reality. I didn’t anticipate going to school online but they’ve handled it really well, and I feel a strong sense of belonging.”

WSU Applebaum information meetings for prospective students take place at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month. Applications for the Physician Assistant Studies program are due Sept. 1.

An anchor in urban health care 
The Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is built on more than 100 years of tradition and innovation in the heart of Detroit. We have grown deep roots in our city, harnessing its powerhouse hospital systems and community service organizations as vibrant, real-world training grounds for students, with an ongoing focus on social justice in health care. And our research at all levels — from undergraduates to veteran faculty members — translates into creative solutions for healthier communities.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering approximately 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 26,000 students.

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