Last month I had the honor of co-presenting at the annual convention the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, along with Kathy Fahey, PhD, CCC-SLP, OnCourse Learning clinical editor. I was so impressed by the participants’ enthusiasm and dedication to their professions. I often have sensed the same energy at occupational therapy gatherings, so I felt oddly at home although I was the only OT in the room.

Interprofessional education and practice was a major theme of the conference. The World Health Organization has emphasized interprofessional teamwork as a priority in improving health because it improves clinical outcomes, decreases medical errors and adds to worker retention and satisfaction. The concept may seem obvious, but practicing it is anything but automatic, simple or typical.

Genuine interprofessional teamwork involves:
• Knowledge of and respect for other professionals’ roles, knowledge and skills
• Clarity regarding each team member’s role and ways to proactively negotiate role release, overlap or merging as situations indicate and/or occur
• Consistent communication and collaboration among professionals
• A core set of agreed-upon ethics and values, and a common sense of mission

I cannot imagine any practitioner disagreeing with these values, yet we often work alongside one another in a “parallel play” model of teamwork. This occurs for a number of reasons. Here are some ideas for solutions to common obstacles.

Problem No. 1

We have been acculturated to focus our attention and loyalty onto our chosen professions. I am absolutely guilty of this, as I just love OT so much that I frequently act like an evangelist. We need to balance our professional pride with humility and curiosity about others’ ways of knowing and doing.


• View patients’ progress as a result of the whole team’s efforts. Listen well to others’ reports, ask meaningful questions and offer suggestions as needed. Be receptive when considering all points of view, and be open to changing your approach.
• Participate in learning alongside other professionals. Go to an in-service or workshop for SLPs, PTs, teachers or social workers. You might not get to count the CE units, but you’ll learn new things and make friends.
• Read widely and often. So many OT reference points draw from other disciplines that I am certain you’ll find a lot of relevant material outside of our literature. (Quick hint: You can access the ProQuest database from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy website, or take interprofessional courses online at

Problem No. 2

Communicating and negotiating with others takes more time, but the benefits make this a hugely worthwhile investment!


• Hone your ability to share critical clinical and logistical information clearly, succinctly and in a language that works across disciplines. Bring notes to meetings and focus all of your attention on the conversation at hand.
• Use your assertive communication skills when negotiating roles at work. Be prepared to persuade, be persuaded and compromise. Stay flexible and ready to advocate for your patients’ best interests. Rehearse with your supervisor or peers; preparation and practice help.
• As often as you can, schedule time to grab coffee or lunch with team members from other professions at work. Talk about your interests, families and backgrounds. Find things to laugh about, too. Having friends at work can be one of the great joys of professional life, and it dramatically increases team effectiveness when situations get complicated.

Interprofessional teamwork is more than just working alongside colleagues without rancor. It is an integrated way of thinking and doing that requires deliberate effort to frequently and consistently relate with one another across professional borders. It’s a front-end investment with immense long-term returns.


For more information, check out the following resources:
• Borril C, West M, Shapiro D, Rees A. Team working and effectiveness in health care. Brit J Health Care Manage. 2000;6:364-371.
Framework for action on interprofessional education and collaborative practice. (WHO/HRH/HPN/10.3). World Health Organization Web site. Accessed November 21, 2015.
• Graybeal C, Long R, Scalise-Smith D, Zeibig E. The art and science of interprofessional education. J Allied Health. 2010;39(3 Pt 3):232-237.
• Lemieux-Charles L, McGuire, W. What do we know about health care team effectiveness? A review of the literature. Med Care Res Rev. 2006;63(3):263-300.
• Vanderzalm J, Hall M, McFarlane L, Rutherford L, Patterson S. Fostering interprofessional learning in a rehabilitation setting: Development of an interprofessional clinical learning unit. Rehabilitation Nursing. 2013;38(2): 178-85.