Hammick, Marilyn, Freeth, Della S., Goodsman, Dane and Copperman, Jeanette
Polity Press, Cambridge
This accessible introductory text is about the values and skills that sustain collaboration between professionals in publicly-funded services, such as health, education and social care. It is a topic of longstanding interest, notorious for a proliferation of models often claiming to attach different meanings to terms such as partnership, cooperation and coordination. The authors, who are best known for their work in the field of interprofessional education (IPE), steer well clear of the terminological quagmire. As the title suggests, they proceed in their first section to define 'being interprofessional' almost as a state of mind, an internalised attitude that enables practitioners to understand, respect and communicate with colleagues from different backgrounds. Much of the introductory material is recognisable from the IPE literature, but the authors are primarily concerned to go beyond learning theory and deal with the world of work. Professionalism on its own, they suggest, is no longer enough in a world of complex problems that make working together not just preferable, but essential. Professionalism creates boundaries, between competences, remits and roles; being interprofessional is about crossing them.
This theme emerges even more clearly in the second section, which explains how being interprofessional enables practitioners to deal with all the different situations in which they must work together. Indeed, as one reads on it becomes clear that what the authors mean by interprofessionalism is not just about working with other practitioners. It is also about 'learning about from and with' service users and carers, as well as improved relationships between statutory, voluntary and private sector staff. In many ways, this is a refreshing and thought-provoking approach, summed up by the simple but often overlooked insight that delivering the best services to clients also involves 'an equal imperative to care for each other in the workplace' (p.21). However, after a while the diversity of issues covered does begin to beg the question: if being interprofessional is conceivably about everything, is it actually about anything? The impression of a rather elastic concept is reinforced by the theoretical eclecticism of the second section, which introduces perspectives on teamwork, group-work, systems theory, citizen participation, levels of alienation, active learning, and social exclusion, among others. In part this is a consequence of the deliberate effort to go back to basics in the initial definition of what it means to 'be interprofessional', but in co-opting more specialised theoretical frameworks in their later chapters, the authors run the risk of generating yet another 'spray-on phrase' (Hardiker et al., 1991), lacking the depth to inspire.
This reservation should not detract from the book's strengths: its clarity and accessibility, the lack of jargon and above all the many excellent case studies that illustrate its concepts and bring interprofessional practice to life. Given that the book is aimed mainly at undergraduate students in a variety of disciplines, this is obviously an important function. Exhortations about the need for 'good communication', for instance, are easy to make in the classroom; one of the illustrations provided in the chapter on 'information sharing' (p.176) shows how a simple request can trigger unintended dynamics of mutual antagonism and retreat behind professional ramparts. Likewise, the series of vignettes in Chapter 5 about a newly qualified practitioner's experiences in their first job will no doubt ring true for students undertaking practice placements, except perhaps for the exemplary ease with which the worker in question reflects on her/his learning curve! Pedagogical modelling aside, these case studies do demonstrate some of the messy reality of human emotions and anxieties, which can so easily undermine the simple precepts of mutual respect and awareness on which effective collaboration depends.
Whether there is much in this book to appeal to more experienced practitioners is hard to say. The textbook-style format, in which the narrative comes interspersed with variously labelled boxes, figures, diagrams, 'pause points', the obligatory 'learner exercises', and so on, can be distracting. It is also difficult to imagine the more hard-bitten variety of frontline worker relating to the idealised take on being interprofessional offered by the authors' oddly humanoid 'final model' (p.22). A clue in this regard is offered by the chapter on 'being interprofessional in complex situations', which in a book aimed squarely at practitioners would surely be given a whole section of its own. It would be interesting to see how the authors would apply their admirably commonsensical and jargon-free approach to such a task.
ReferencesHARDIKER, P., EXTON, K. and BARKER, M. (1991). Policies and Practices in Preventive Child Care. Ashgate: Aldershot.
Royal Holloway University of London