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Keywords:

  • systematic review;
  • interprofessional education;
  • evaluation;
  • research;
  • theory;
  • health and social care

Developing an evidence base for interdisciplinary learning: a systematic review

Aim of the study. The overall aim of the study was to explore the feasibility of introducing interdisciplinary education within undergraduate health professional programmes. This paper reports on the first stage of the study in which a systematic review was conducted to summarize the evidence for interdisciplinary education of undergraduate health professional students.

Methods. Systematic reviews integrate valid information providing a basis for rational decision making about health care which should be based on empirical and not anecdotal evidence. The accepted principles for systematic reviews were adapted in order to allow integration of the literature to produce recommendations for educational practice and guidelines for future research.

Findings. The literature on interdisciplinary education was found to be diverse, including relatively small amounts of research data and much larger amounts of evaluation literature. Methodological rating schemes were used to test for confounding influences in the research studies. The number of studies found was 141 but only 30 (21%) were included in the analysis because of lack of methodological rigour in the research and poorly developed outcome measures.

Conclusions. Student health professionals were found to benefit from interdisciplinary education with outcome effects primarily relating to changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. Effects upon professional practice were not discernible and educational and psychological theories were rarely used to guide the development of the educational interventions.