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Medical Education 2012: 46: 58–70

Context  Interprofessional education (IPE) is not a recent phenomenon and has been the subject of several World Health Organization reports. Its focus is on health professionals and students learning with, from and about one another to improve collaboration and the quality of patient care. The drivers for IPE include new models of health care delivery in the context of an ageing population and the increasing prevalence of long-term chronic disease, in addition to the patient safety agenda. The delivery of complex health care requires a team-based and collaborative approach, although teamwork and collaborative practice are not necessarily synonymous. The rationale for IPE is that learning together enhances future working together.

Discussion  Systematic reviews of IPE have shown some evidence that IPE fosters positive interaction among different professions and variable evidence that it improves attitudes towards other professionals. Generalisation across published papers is difficult because IPE initiatives are diverse and good evaluation methodology and data are lacking. In terms of constructive alignment from an education viewpoint, there is a need for educators to define learning outcomes and match these with learning activities to ensure that IPE demonstrates added value over uniprofessional learning. Assessment is difficult as pre-qualification professional education focuses on the individual and professional accreditation organisations mandate only for their own professions.

Conclusions  Interprofessional education draws from a number of education, sociology and psychology theories, and these are briefly discussed. The most pressing research questions for the IPE community are defined and the challenges for IPE explored.