Margaret Purden reflects on her seminal role in steering, championing, researching and developing interprofessional education.

Starting each of her classes with a Peanuts cartoon is just one of the ways Associate Professor Margaret Purden, N., PhD, creates a safe learning environment for her students. “Humour is a powerful icebreaker that puts everyone at ease,” explains Prof. Purden, who this year will celebrate 30 years of service as a faculty member at the Ingram School of Nursing (ISoN).

Prof. Purden wears many hats. In addition to her teaching responsibilities at the ISoN, she is Scientific Director of the Centre for Nursing Research at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), a Senior Investigator at the JGH Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, and Curriculum Chair of the Office of Interprofessional Education at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. And while she juggles all these roles seamlessly, she is particularly proud of her seminal role in steering, championing, researching and developing interprofessional education (IPE). “Interprofessional education is about breaking through the silos by providing opportunities for students from different health professions to come together and learn about each other’s roles” she explains.

While the idea seems like a no-brainer, interprofessional education was not on the radar in Canada until 2001, when the Royal Commission on The Future of Health Care in Canada issued its report on repairing the ailing healthcare system. Promoting better collaboration and communication among professionals in the delivery of health care was one of the report’s recommendations, along with a massive injection of funds to make it happen.

“One day, I received a call from the school secretary that a representative from Health Canada was in the lobby and he wanted to talk to someone about getting an interprofessional education program in place at McGill,” recalls Prof. Purden with a laugh. Intrigued by the challenge, she formed a research team of like-minded faculty. The group received a $1.3 million three-year grant for a research project called The McGill Educational Initiative on Interprofessional Collaboration, with Prof. Purden and Dr. David Fleiszer as co-investigators.

With the participation of volunteer facilitators, the research team piloted several educational initiatives that brought together 600 students from different health profession schools to learn together for the first time. In one such session students were divided into breakout rooms and asked to reflect on their respective professions and how they understood their roles. “In sharing their aspirations, they realized that they all came into these professions for similar reasons,” Prof. Purden recalls. The energy was electric and feedback from the facilitators and students alike was extremely positive. A major challenge was finding a venue within the university that could accommodate these large student gatherings. Thinking outside of the box, they held one of the sessions in the ballroom of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Once the initial grant funding ran out, Prof. Purden and dedicated faculty kept the program alive, preparing and delivering courses on a voluntary basis for a period of eight years. “We all saw the value in what we were doing and were committed to providing interprofessional education to McGill students,” she says.

Prof. Purden and her colleagues also contributed to the growing body of IPE research, presenting their results at international conferences. Meanwhile, at the national level, professional orders began incorporating IPE into their accreditation standards. As inter-professional education went from a nice-to-have to a must-have, thanks to the groundwork of Prof. Purden and her colleagues, McGill was ahead of the curve.

In 2016, McGill established the Office of Interprofessional Education, providing stable funding for its operation with Prof. Purden as the inaugural director. The office relies on administrative support, 10 part-time core faculty, and over 600 facilitators to help deliver the IPE program in an interactive format using case studies, simulation with standardized patients and guided debriefing. It is offered annually to approximately 850 pre-licensure students from eight professional schools, including medicine and nursing. The curriculum covers four competencies: knowledge of professional roles, effective communication in teams, patient-centred care, and conflict resolution within teams. As Prof. Purden explains, “The focus isn’t on finding solutions – it’s about exploring how individuals from different professions can draw on each other’s skills as they work collaboratively to provide optimal patient and family care.”

Facilitators comprising academic and clinical faculty are equally well supported, receiving comprehensive training that includes online faculty development sessions prior to the courses. To ensure continuity, newcomers are paired with experienced facilitators. “We have a waiting list of facilitators who want to deliver the courses,” says Prof. Purden.

What makes an effective teacher? Prof. Purden is a big proponent of experiential learning, and of providing feedback that applauds students’ efforts to go out of their comfort zones while encouraging and motivating them to do better. Keeping abreast of new pedagogical approaches by attending conferences and learning from her colleagues, being organized, mapping out the course in detail and setting standards and expectations from the get-go are also important. “Teaching doesn’t always have to be serious. Learning is about having fun,” she concludes.

Margaret Purden (right) celebrates winning McGill University’s Alumni Award of Merit with Anita Gagnon, Associate Dean and Director, Ingram School of Nursing.