The health care industry demands a level of collaboration that often goes unnoticed. In school, competition can overtake students as they battle to gain the best scores, the best grades, and the best clinical experiences. That’s why the College of Health Sciences participates in the Interprofessional Healthcare Residential College (IHRC), a living-learning program (LLP) that emphasizes support, collaboration, and community among the health sciences disciplines.
Affectionately nicknamed “iRock,” the program groups together approximately 200 students with a passion for healthcare spanning all University of Kentucky colleges. These students then live and learn together for several years.
“IHRC makes a very large campus feel much smaller and more intimate. This naturally builds community,” said Brendan O’Farrell, PhD, director of the program. “It also does a great job of broadening and individualizing all of the learning that takes place in the classroom and incorporating that into veery aspect of a student’s life. Learning becomes more holistic.”
“Our programmatic structure takes academic learning into a whole new setting and allows for learning that is difficult to incorporate into a class schedule, such as discussions of faith in healthcare, how mass incarceration affects society, and so on,” said peer-mentor Jacob Zimmerman, a second-year human health sciences and gender and women’s studies major.
The connected coursework does more than encourage interdisciplinary learning; it also fosters an interprofessional connection. “We work really hard to build interpersonal relationships between college students,” Zimmerman continued. “At other residence halls, you may not know everyone on your floor. In fact, you might never meet your next-door neighbor. At IHRC, all students have shared programmatic experiences so they really are a part of each other’s lives and peripherals.”
Lori Stolz, a senior human health sciences major on the pre-physical therapy track, noted the strength of the IHRC community lies in the shared struggle. “No one truly understands the pressure that health science students are under better than their peers,” she said.
For example: A pre-physical therapy student and pre-med student might band together to study difficult coursework or pre-nursing students struggling with their chemistry courses may seek help from a pre- physician assistant studies peer. This variation in talent contributes to the strong sense of belonging omnipresent within IHRC.
Additonally, IHRC serves as a window into other programs teaching students to develop collaborative skills and interdisciplinary communication before a profession demands it.
“Our students may vary in pursuit of a health care position, but they grasp the understanding of interprofessionalism and will develop knowledge on how different fields intersect,” Zimmerman said. “This also contributes to the sense of educational flexibility our program provides. Many young individuals come into our program unsure of their path, and by exploring other programs thanks to their peers, one may find the transition between, say, PT and dentistry, a bit easier.”
IHRC also hosts a variety of social and professional events to foster students’ sense of community and their understanding of multiple aspects of health care. “We may host meetings with the Center for Interprofessional Healthcare Education or opportunities to explore other locations on campus such as the College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, or the Sports Medicine Research Institute,” Zimmerman said.
“IHRC really helps residents learn how to work with people that may think differently,” added Stolz. “You learn to see the strengths and weaknesses in your own way of thinking, and the strengths and weaknesses of others’ lines of thought. Students also learn to appreciate and respect what other professions do in practice. All of this is important when working in an interprofessional team and discipline.”
For many students vying for admission into selective programs, the competitive process is difficult to navigate. Especially when you are competing against your friends and peers. In IHRC, students work to support each other during this process.
“Even though your peers are people you will eventually compete against for spots in grad school, it doesn’t feel like a competition,” Stolz said. “You want everyone around you to succeed because you see first-hand how hard everyone works. You celebrate your friends’ successes, they celebrate yours, and you pick one another up when hard times come.”
Zimmerman agreed. “We try to lift each other up,” he said. “We tell each other about opportunities coming to campus and what different events are being hosted. We really try to make sure that we’re accounting for each other’s needs and providing everyone with the encouragement to reach their goals.”