Hands-on Course Transforms Learning

Students at Summit ElderCare
Students from five different disciplines work as a team at Summit ElderCare in Lowell to provide quality care.

By Karen Angelo

Teamwork and collaboration are often heralded as the keys to success in work and life. That approach is probably no more important than in a healthcare setting, where the coordination of care between various professions can mean the difference between life and death. 

A new “Interdisciplinary Experiential Learning” course gives students from five different majors — nursing, medical laboratory science, nutritional sciences, exercise physiology and public health — experience working in teams at Summit ElderCare in Lowell, a Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). The federal program serves residents age 55 and older who are eligible for nursing home care, yet seek to live as independently as possible in their own homes. 

“I have never seen a team work so well together, forgetting about titles or degrees,” says Jenna Peixoto, an exercise physiology major. “We worked as equals to put the patient first and provide the best possible care.” 

The course responds to a growing need for healthcare professionals to be trained in interprofessional education, a recommended strategy by the World Health Organization that prepares students to work effectively in teams so that patients are more likely to receive safe, quality care. 

“We’re committed to supporting interprofessional education for our students so that they hit the ground running once they get into the workforce,” says Shortie McKinney, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “Working as a team is key to not only providing the best possible care, but also controlling rising healthcare costs.” 

“I would have never thought about interprofessional education until I was given this opportunity,” says nutritional sciences major Kayla Milburn. “As I work in a hospital now, I want to make a point to interact more with other professions because I saw how collaboration has such a positive effect on patient care.” 

‘This experience helped me remember that behind every specimen is a person with a story.’ -Med Lab Science Major Sandra Adome
Medical laboratory science major Sandra Adome, who will work behind the scenes in a lab once she graduates, appreciated the direct connection with the people. 

“This experience helped me remember that behind every specimen is a person with a story,” she said. 

When students visited Summit ElderCare each week, they joined an interdisciplinary team meeting that included the doctor, social worker, dietitian, nurse, physical therapist and homecare worker. Students helped people in the program with their appointments in the facility and in their homes. 

“As a future nurse, I depend on all of these disciplines to help my patients recover,” says nursing major Samantha Marshall. “Having the knowledge of these professions now, I can't believe that most of us go through school without an in-depth interdisciplinary experience. It seems so necessary now from the other side.” 

Leanna Moran, site director at Summit ElderCare, says that the partnership with UMass Lowell benefits both organizations. 

“We were eager to work with UMass Lowell when we opened our new site in Lowell. We want to be an asset to this community and continue to develop long-lasting relationships. My team and the participants enjoyed and appreciated having the students here on Mondays,” Moran says. 

Older Population, Younger Caregivers Needed 

Another benefit of the Summit ElderCare experience is giving health sciences students access to the elder population. 

“Most young adults don't go into college knowing that they want to work with elders,” says Moran. “They need to be exposed to the population and then often find that they fall in love with them. The rewards are great. There is so much to learn from those that have lived more years than ourselves.” 

Faculty from each of the disciplines held weekly debriefing sessions with the students as a group when they returned to campus. 

“It was really great to see the students transform as the semester went along,” says JoAnn Moriarty-Baron, a lecturer in physical therapy. “Initially, the students seemed uncertain as how to relate to one another, but by the end of the course, they developed an appreciation of one another’s expertise and functioned as a professional team for the benefit of the patients.”