Interdisciplinary education

One motivation for locating a School of Nursing in the University of Auckland was to enable nursing students to learn alongside other health professionals.

Palliative care doctor Rob McLeod from Auckland District Health Board gives a lecture on pain in advancing cancer, c.2007.

Interdisciplinary education had proven successful in many top universities across the world. It seemed logical to educate medical, pharmacy and nursing students alongside each other since they would be working together as health professionals in the future. This interdisciplinary approach gave students the opportunity to gain new perspectives and an understanding of how each professional contributes to patient care.  

"It was nice being on campus together and it was nice being in class together because I guess you would get questions from slightly different perspectives as well. I still really like that model; I think it's really good because that's how we should be working out there in the real world we should all be working together and I think that's a nice way to start [taking] down any barriers."

Dr Anna King
BNurs student (2000-2002)

One of the earliest expressions of interdisciplinary teaching, developed by the nursing lecturers in conjunction with other faculty staff, was Māori Health Week. During the week, students from each of the undergraduate programmes came together to learn about Māori health, the effects of colonisation and Te Tiriti of Waitangi. Māori Health Week continues today.

"I don’t know where the idea emanated from, but we said, 'wouldn’t it be a good idea if we could somehow get our three groups of students to learn some of this stuff together?'

And as a consequence of that initial conversation, something eventuated which has really become very special. It was initially called Māori Health Week... [Students are] divided into interdisciplinary groups, so the group contains medical students, nursing students, pharmacy students."

Emeritus Professor John Shaw
Head of School of Pharmacy (2000-2012) 

Interview with John Shaw, 8 February 2017. University of Auckland FMHS oral history project. MSS and Archives Accession 1586, The University of Auckland Library

Initially, it was difficult for nursing to join a predominantly medical faculty. The nursing lecturers found they had to challenge systems that did not suit their students’ learning needs. Dr Ann McKillop, who taught in the first Bachelor of Nursing programme, commented on the grading system for the first year shared papers and the changes that had to be made to enable nurses to continue studying.

"They had a scaling system whereby there was a predetermined pass rate and if too many people were passing then they would actually have to scale the pass grade up and the ones that fell off the bottom of that were more likely to be nursing students. Judy [Kilpatrick], Heather [Baker] and I worked hard to influence change."

Dr Ann McKillop
Senior lecturer, School of Nursing (2000-present)

Dr Shirley Wilson, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing from 1999 to 2001 taught biomedical sciences across the faculty. Shirley also commented on the initial challenges nursing faced moving into an interdisciplinary faculty.  

Bringing nursing into an interdisciplinary faculty provided access to experts from a range of professions who could help nurses develop higher level knowledge and skills. This created opportunities to advance nurses’ clinical practice in areas such as clinical diagnostics. Emertius Professor John Shaw, for example, contributed significantly to planning and implementation of pharmacology content in courses designed to prepare nurses for Nurse Practitioner and nurse prescribing pathways. As Head of School, Associate Professor Judy Kilpatrick was determined that all student nurses would have a stronger science base and comprehensive clinical assessment skills. Interdisciplinary education with medical and pharmacy students would help to achieve this.

"Judy [Kilpatrick] was always keen about making sure that the best people taught the programmes. So, it ensured that we had academics across the med school [sic], that was why she wanted to come over here. She wanted to  make sure, if you were learning about pharmacology then you would get the top professor of pharmacology in New Zealand. If you need to know about physiology, you would have the best physiology professor."

Professor Matthew Parsons
Senior Lecturer (1999-2008)

Former Associate Dean (Education) and Director of Nursing Margaret Horsburgh reflected on the huge advantages for nursing being located in an interdisciplinary faculty with expert teachers and the support of nurse leaders.