Program Profile

Interprofessional Education in Patient Aligned Care Team Primary Care-Mental Health Integration

Interprofessional education is an effective approach for preparing health care providers for team-based practice.

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Over the past 10 years, the VHA has been a national leader in primary care-mental health integration (PC-MHI) within patient aligned care teams (PACTs).1,2 Studies of the PC-MHI collaborative care model consistently have shown increased access to MH services, higher levels of MH treatment engagement, improved MH treatment outcomes, and high patient and provider satisfaction.3-7 Primary care-mental health integration relies heavily on interprofessional team-based practice with providers from diverse educational and clinical backgrounds who work together to deliver integrated mental and behavioral health services within PACTs. This model requires a unique blending of professional cultures and communication and practice styles.

To sustain PC-MHI in PACT, health care professionals (HCPs) must be well trained to work effectively in interprofessional teams. Across health care organizations, training in collaborative interprofessional team-based practice has been identified as an important and challenging task.8-11

Integrating educational experiences among different HCP learners is an approach to developing competency in interprofessional collaboration early in training. The World Health Organization defined interprofessional education (IPE) as occurring “when students from two or more professions learn about, from, and with each other to enable effective collaboration and improve health outcomes.”9 Fundamental to this definition is the belief that interaction among learners from different disciplines during their training develops competency in subsequent effective collaborative practice. Studies of IPE in MH professional training have found that prelicensure IPE contributes to increased knowledge of roles and responsibilities of different disciplines, improved interprofessional communication and attitudes, and increased willingness to work in teams.12-17

Interprofessional education is a valuable training model, but developing interprofessional learning experiences in a system of diverse and often siloed training programs is difficult. More information about design and implementation of IPE training experiences is needed, particularly in outpatient settings in which integration of traditionally separate discipline-specific care is central to the health care mission. The VA PACT PC-MHI is a strong team-based care model that represents a unique opportunity for training across disciplines in interprofessional collaborative care.

To find innovative approaches to meeting the need for IPE in PACT PC-MHI, the authors developed a new IPE program in PC-MHI at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital (WSMMVH) in Madison, Wisconsin. This article reviews the development, implementation, and first-year evaluation of the training program and discusses the challenges and the IPE areas in need of improvement in PACT PC-MHI.


In 2012, the VHA launched phase 1 of the Mental Health Education Expansion Initiative (MHEEI), a collaboration of the Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA), VHA Mental Health Services (VHA-MHS), and the Office of Mental Health Operations (OMHO).18 The MHEEI was intended to “increase expertise in critical areas of need, expand the recruitment pipeline of well-trained, highly qualified health care providers in behavioral and mental health disciplines, and promote the utilization of interprofessional team-based care.”18 In response, WSMMVH organized a planning committee and submitted a funding request through the section of MHEEI called PACT With Integrated Behavioral Health Providers. The planning committee included training program directors and staff from psychiatry, pharmacy, social work, psychology, and primary care. The authors received funding for trainees in psychiatry (postgraduate year 4 [PGY-4]), pharmacy/MH residency (PGY-2), pharmacy/ambulatory care (PGY-1), and social work (interns).

Curriculum Development

The planning committee met regularly for 6 months to develop the organization, learning objectives, educational strategies, and implementation plan for the IPE program. The program was organized as a 4- to 12-month clinical rotation with the PC-MHI team in PACT, combined with 12 months of protected weekly IPE time (Table 1).

Learning Objectives

To better understand the educational needs and foci for learning objectives, the interprofessional planning committee reviewed guidelines on training in integrated care and collaborative team-based practice.2,9,10,19-21 These guidelines were compared with existing training opportunities for each discipline to identify training gaps and needs.

Learning objectives were organized into 3 domains: patient-centered PC-MHI, collaborative team-based practice, and population health and program improvement. Table 2 outlines the shared learning objectives linked to each domain that were common to the psychiatry, pharmacy, and social work disciplines. Although many of the learning objectives were shared among all disciplines, each trainee also had discipline-specific clinical activities and learning objectives. Psychiatry and pharmacy residents focused on primary care psychiatric medication consultation and care management for antidepressant medication starts. Social work interns focused on psychosocial and functional assessment and brief problem-focused psychotherapies. Learning objectives were met through direct veteran care in the primary care clinic as part of the PACT PC-MHI team and through interprofessional learning activities during protected weekly education time.


Critical stakeholders in implementing the IPE program involved themselves early and throughout the planning process. Stakeholders included VAMC leadership, primary care and MH service line chiefs and clinic managers, training program directors, and PACT staff. Planning committee members gave presentations on the IPE program at MH service line and PACT meetings in the 2 months before program initiation in order to orient staff to learning objectives, program structure, and impact on PACT PC-MHI operations. Throughout the first year, the planning committee continued to meet every 2 weeks to review progress, solve implementation problems, and revise learning objectives and activities.


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