Teamwork Is Absolutely Critical For New Doctors. Interdisciplinary Training Is A Big Part Of That.

Medical School Teamwork


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition is:  work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.

It’s a word we hear all through school. Teamwork makes the dream work and other catchy phrases like that. However, where does teamwork play into the medical field?

Studies show the use of multi-disciplinary teams creates better patient care and satisfaction, better employee satisfaction, better outcomes, and fewer adverse events. In fact, because this is such a win-win for both patients and medical providers, most hospitals and medical care facilities incorporate a multi-disciplinary team approach.

That being the case, it makes sense that medical students and residents learn about other professions on their team and are taught how to interact within a team dynamic, right?

Dr. Chan, director of an obstetrics and gynecology rotation, requires her students to spend half of their rotation studying under a nurse midwife. She highly respects nurse midwives as experts in normal deliveries, and believes students should learn the baseline normal before moving on to learn about pathology. In fact, moving from the normal to the pathological is how students learn in medical school. However, one of her students objected to this and sent her an email stating: 

I recognize that many women want midwives for their deliveries, but I came to medical school to learn what physicians do. I will soon have to make a decision about which residency to do, and I want as much time as possible to work with physicians. I would like my schedule to be changed so I can spend my time in medical school learning from physicians, not nurses or midwives.

Should Dr. Chan accommodate this student’s request? The answer is no. Here’s why.

First of all, Dr. Chan is the expert in this situation. A general rule of conduct in medical school is the best person to teach a subject is the expert in said subject. For the student to assume they know the best curriculum for themselves is not only arrogant, but it is eschewing one of the principles of medical school. Additionally, many experts in certain subjects studied in medical school, like science or anatomy, are not physicians, so to make the assumption that all experts in the medical field are physicians is shortsighted.

The only way to learn how to be a team player is to play on an actual team.

Secondly, medicine is a team oriented profession. The only way to learn how to be a team player is to play on an actual team. Currently, many medical specialties are lacking in physicians, and this lack of physicians will require other professionals to step in, thus creating more time and space for physicians to focus on medically complex patients. In order to have a well functioning team, it is imperative for each team member to be knowledgeable about the other team members’ roles.

Lastly, when working with a team, good interprofessional communication plays a huge role in team effectiveness. Oftentimes, different specialists will have different terms for similar things. It is important for everyone on the team to know that because it creates better lines of communication, thus creating a more effective team. Along with that, knowing about the different perspectives on the same issue within a team creates more empathy between teammates and results in more creative and multi-dimensional patient care.

All in all, if the goal of medicine is to provide the best patient care available, it is of utmost importance for budding physicians to learn how to collaborate with a team, view their colleagues as equals, and discard the outdated idea that physicians run the show.

Kari Cowell
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