Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association

Building capacity in Australian interprofessional health education: perspectives from key health and higher education stakeholders

Lynda R. Matthews A G , Rosalie B. Pockett B , Gillian Nisbet C , Jill E. Thistlethwaite D , Roger Dunston E , Alison Lee E and Jill F. White F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Ageing, Work and Health Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

B Social Work & Policy Studies, Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Email:

C Sydney Medical School – Northern, The University of Sydney, Level 7 Kolling Building, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, NSW 2065, Australia. Email:

D The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia. Email:

E Centre for Research in Learning and Change, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123 Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia. Email:;

F Sydney Nursing School, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Email:

G Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Health Review 35(2) 136-140
Submitted: 15 February 2010  Accepted: 19 October 2010   Published: 25 May 2011


Objective. A substantial literature engaging with the directions and experiences of stakeholders involved in interprofessional health education exists at the international level, yet almost nothing has been published that documents and analyses the Australian experience. Accordingly, this study aimed to scope the experiences of key stakeholders in health and higher education in relation to the development of interprofessional practice capabilities in health graduates in Australia.

Methods. Twenty-seven semi-structured interviews and two focus groups of key stakeholders involved in the development and delivery of interprofessional health education in Australian higher education were undertaken. Interview data were coded to identify categories that were organised into key themes, according to principles of thematic analysis.

Results. Three themes were identified: the need for common ground between health and higher education, constraints and enablers in current practice, and the need for research to establish an evidence base. Five directions for national development were also identified.

Conclusions. The study identified a range of interconnected changes that will be required to successfully mainstream interprofessional education within Australia, in particular, the importance of addressing issues of culture change and the need for a nationally coordinated and research informed approach. These findings reiterate those found in the international literature.

What is known about the topic? Interprofessional health education (IPE) and practice (IPP) capabilities are central to the delivery of health services that are safer, more effective, patient-centred and sustainable. The case for an interprofessionally capable health workforce is therefore strongly argued and well accepted in the international literature. The task of building a nationally coherent approach to IPE within health professional curricula, however, is complex and challenging, and there is almost no literature in this area presenting an Australian perspective.

What does this paper add? This paper presents perspectives from key stakeholders in the Australian health and higher education sectors on the challenges associated with implementing and sustaining IPE to foster IPP across all health professions. It identifies several policy, cultural, institutional and funding changes that will be required to locate IPE as a central rather than peripheral education activity.

What are the implications for practitioners? The study points to changes that will be required to build an Australian health workforce with increased levels of IPP capability. It highlights the importance of recognising and addressing culture change as a central part of embedding and sustaining IPE and IPP. Additionally it foregrounds for governments, higher education and health practitioners the importance of addressing the development of IPE and IPP as a multi-dimensional task, that will require a national and research informed approach to build momentum and scale.

Additional keywords: collaboration, healthcare delivery, interdisciplinary practice, teamwork.


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