Itasca Ecohealth Students

Itasca Ecohealth IPE Experience: Exploring Sustainability through Collaboration

Gao Vang

In spring 2022, the Center for Interprofessional Health (CIH) and the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs launched a novel interprofessional education experience at the Itasca Biological Station in Itasca, Minnesota.

The intensive weekend-long collaborative learning retreat aimed to foster appreciation for ecohealth principles and geopolitical considerations in health. Objectives included exploring unique cultures, values, roles and responsibilities, and expertise of other health professions and the impact these factors can have on health outcomes; as well as actively engaging with community organizations supporting rural health to learn from, with, and about the integration of population health approaches within and outside of the health system.

The pilot included 10 health sciences learners and was led by Sara North and Cheri Friedrich, co-directors for CIH, and Carolyn Porta, AVP for Clinical Affairs. 

"As compared to more traditional curriculum related to direct patient/client care, the Itasca IPE experience was developed with a focus on systems-level factors contributing to health. It is imperative that we cultivate future health professionals who see the connections between and impacts of their contributions on a larger scale,” said Sara North, PT, DPT, PhD, M.Ed, PNAP.

Over the course of a weekend, learners debated key human, animal, and environmental health issues in northern Minnesota and explored the environment at the Mississippi Headwaters with a state naturalist. They learned about local University research initiatives and formed relationships spanning four professions including mortuary science, nursing, physical therapy, and public health epidemiology.

“The Itasca IPE experience is a holistic look at the effects we as humans have on each other and the environments we inhabit. It is a great experience for widening your perspective and considering the bigger picture,” said Anna Davis, a mortuary science student.

Learners reported elevated interprofessional competency development and high satisfaction overall, expressing both personal and professional impacts and awareness that will be carried into their future practice.

"I know from my own research experience at the Itasca Biological Station how important this living laboratory is for field research and training," said Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, vice president for clinical affairs. "I am truly grateful that our health sciences students have this opportunity to connect, learn and grow."

Participation in the Itasca Ecohealth IPE Experience serves as part of the 1health interprofessional education curriculum. The program will be offered again in the fall and in spring 2023. The CIH team will increase the presence and insight of community experts in future offerings to further enhance the immersion.

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