The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved a new department name at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, transitioning the Department of Interprofessionalism to the Department of Health Care Innovation and Implementation Science. The new name, pending final approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, reflects recent curricular enhancements and a new research focus at the medical school.

When the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine welcomed its first students in 2010, it was the first school to establish a Department of Interprofessionalism. The goal of the department, and its related curricular domain, was for students to learn more about interdisciplinary health care teams, discover the roles and their scopes, and work better together as a team.

Last summer, the medical school expanded the interprofessionalism curricular domain to health systems science and interprofessional practice. Health systems science is the study of how health care is delivered with the end goal of improving the quality of health care for patients and populations. It includes topics in population health, quality and safety, health systems analysis, health care finance, value-based care, informatics, and health disparities, as well as teamwork and interprofessional practice.

In looking at the new department name, innovation – as applied to health care – refers to finding new, more effective ways to deliver care and solve problems, resulting in improved health for individuals and communities. “Implementation science” is the study of methods used to ensure that research findings are effectively translated into clinical care processes.

As such, the new department name better incorporates this expanded curriculum and allows for faculty within the department a broader opportunity for research and collaboration.

“The department name builds on the national reputation the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine has developed through the interprofessionalism domain of our original curriculum,” said Lee Learman, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “It also reflects our plan to build research in the medical school focused on health care innovation and implementation science to improve the health of patients and communities.”

In January, Sarah Henrickson Parker was named chair of the department. The department’s broader focus is in line with Parker’s career work which centers on the study of human factors and the science of health care delivery.

“The curriculum and department name reflect our focus on systems and their influence on the daily work of health care. We look forward to expanding the department’s research portfolio and focus efforts on discoveries that will facilitate translation of evidence-based best practices into the best care for patients and the communities we serve,” Parker said. “Our faculty and students will be uniquely positioned to evaluate the system contributions to high quality and safe patient care.”

Health systems science is sometimes referred to as the “third pillar of medical education.” When Learman arrived as dean in 2019, he saw the opportunity to integrate it into the school’s curriculum by expanding the interprofessionalism domain.

A year later, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the need for the curriculum became even more clear as responding to the pandemic threat required coordination among health care systems and public health officials on a local, regional, national, and global scale.

“We want our students to understand how health policy, public health, community health, and academic health centers work together to influence the health of individual patients and populations,” Learman said. “It is complex, but essential, for our graduates’ abilities to be systems citizens who work to improve care in the settings where they will practice now and in the future.”

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