Title

Systems Thinking and Systems-Based Practice Across the Health Professions: An Inquiry Into Definitions, Teaching Practices, and Assessment

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

7-3-2018

Journal

Teaching and Learning in Medicine

Volume

30

Issue

3

DOI

10.1080/10401334.2017.1398654

Keywords

assessment; medicine and health sciences education; systems thinking; systems-based practice; teaching

Abstract

Phenomenon: Systems thinking is the cornerstone of systems-based practice (SBP) and a core competency in medicine and health sciences. Literature regarding how to teach or apply systems thinking in practice is limited. This study aimed to understand how educators in medicine, physical therapy, physician assistant, nursing, and speech-language pathology education programs teach and assess systems thinking and SBP. Approach: Twenty-six educators from seven different degree programs across the five professions were interviewed and program descriptions and relevant course syllabi were reviewed. Qualitative analysis was iterative and incorporated inductive and deductive methods as well as a constant comparison of units of data to identify patterns and themes. Findings: Six themes were identified: 1) participants described systems thinking as ranging across four major levels of healthcare (i.e., patient, care team, organization, and external environment); 2) participants associated systems thinking with a wide range of activities across the curriculum including quality improvement, Inter-professional education (IPE), error mitigation, and advocacy; 3) the need for healthcare professionals to understand systems thinking was primarily externally driven; 4) participants perceived that learning systems thinking occurred mainly informally and experientially rather than through formal didactic instruction; 5) participants characterized systems thinking content as interspersed across the curriculum and described a variety of strategies for teaching and assessing it; 6) participants indicated a structured framework and inter-professional approach may enhance teaching and assessment of systems thinking. Insights: Systems thinking means different things to different health professionals. Teaching and assessing systems thinking across the health professions will require further training and practice. Tools, techniques, taxonomies and expertise outside of healthcare may be used to enhance the teaching, assessment, and application of systems thinking and SBP to clinical practice; however, these would need to be adapted and refined for use in healthcare.

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