Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning


  • The Vanderbilt Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL) is a two-year educational program designed to prepare students in medicine, nursing, social work, and pharmacy for the future of collaborative patient care.
  • Students from Vanderbilt University Schools of Medicine and Nursing, Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy, and University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University Department of Social Work, work in interprofessional  teams for one-half day per week in clinical settings.
  • Students further develop skills necessary to deliver patient, family, and community-centered care through their education in quality improvement, patient advocacy, and health coaching, among other population health topics.
VPIL has already been recognized by the Journal of the American Medical Association as an exemplary program providing, “meaningful roles for medical students in the provision of longitudinal patient care.”


Vanderbilt University’s Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL) is a comprehensive and innovative educational program for future health care professionals. The program, established in 2010, focuses on uniting students from five different disciplines – Medicine, Social Work, Nursing, and Pharmacy, and most recently Divinity – in order to prepare them as a team for the evolving field of medicine. The program enrolls approximately 60 students each year from four partner institutions: Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy, University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University Departments of Social Work, and Vanderbilt University Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Divinity. VPIL participants from each professional background work in interprofessional teams over the course of two academic years.

The VPIL curriculum seeks to teach patient, family, and community-centered care through a variety of curriculum components. One of the main features of VPIL is clinic-based learning. VPIL student teams work together for one half-day each week to provide care to a panel of patients, under the supervision of multi-professional providers. Students are exposed to and participate in delivering a range of healthcare and social services, including health coaching, medication counseling, arranging laboratory and imaging services, home visits, patient education sessions, and connecting patients to community resources.  VPIL students also collaborate outside of the clinic, in classroom-based activities for one half-day each month. Teams are able to reflect on their experiences in the clinic, assess their performance, and discuss patient outcomes and needs. Such case-based learning emphasizes the social and behavioral determinants of individual and community health. Students also learn about systems of care and healthcare quality improvement, actively applying their skills by developing and implementing short and long-term quality improvement projects, which culminates in a capstone project.[1]

Keys to Success

Clinical teamwork from the start

Students participating in the two-year program start their VPIL learning at the beginning of their graduate-education careers. This is an especially notable shift for medical students, who typically begin their clinical clerkships in the third year, after two years of classroom-based learning. However, early clinical exposure and patient interaction is not the only thing that sets VPIL apart. What truly distinguishes VPIL is the quality of that clinical exposure and the interprofessional team-based interactions that make them “collaboration-practice-ready.”

This educational experience cultivates what Director of VPIL Program Development, Dr. Heather Davidson, considers to be one of the most important skills for future healthcare professionals: meaningful and effective communication. Dr. Davidson noted that the ongoing communication training required for successful healthcare professionals is multi-level, when she said these skills apply, “Not just to verbal communication, but electronic communication as well – with patients and within teams.” The interprofessional teams facilitate communication between professional members of the care team, tackling one of the major challenges in healthcare, that Dr. Davidson emphasized, “that information is so incredibly fragmented.” Commenting on the combined clinical and classroom learning in the program, Dr. Davidson said, “As students gain a deeper understanding of [health] systems knowledge, they are able to understand how to hand off information [to other professionals] in ways that are most effective.”

Patient-centered care

One of the central values of the VPIL program is, “including the patient as a true member of the team”. For patients with chronic conditions, like diabetes, this approach is incredibly refreshing because, as Dr. Davidson recognized, “So many [patients with chronic conditions], who have lived with their conditions for many years, have become experts in their own condition – yet, are still not included as a member of their care team.” Thus, in addition to systems-level communication, students also learn the intimate communication skills necessary to interact with patients, or as Dr. Davidson framed it, “to sit with human beings, learn about their values and practice the best methods of engagement that is meaningful to a patient.”

Ability to Inspire

As one of the few programs of its kind, VPIL can serve as a model to other medical and health professional schools as to how to integrate interprofessional learning into school’s curriculums. VPIL has already been recognized by the Journal of the American Medical Association as an exemplar program providing, “meaningful roles for medical students in the provision of longitudinal patient care.”[2]

Drawbacks & Limitations

Given the VPIL program is relatively new and small in scale (~60 students per year), it is difficult to assess the program’s impact on the healthcare landscape. Additionally, while Dr. Davidson noted that many students who join the program are attracted to it due to their interests in primary care and community health, it is unclear what proportion of graduates will actually make their careers in these fields. While Interprofessional collaboration is helpful to every specialty, it will be interesting to see if the program is able to impact the critical deficiency of health care providers in fields like primary care.