Creighton Makes Interdisciplinary Research and Education a Priority

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, Associate Director of Communications at Creighton University

At CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center, clinicians, residents and students gather in the “huddle” as part of an innovative team-based approach. Team members from different health sciences backgrounds use their expertise for holistic health care (photo by Creighton University)

At CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center, clinicians, residents and students gather in the “huddle” as part of an innovative team-based approach. Team members from different health sciences backgrounds use their expertise for holistic health care (photo by Creighton University)

With nine colleges and schools — four in the health sciences and others encompassing business, law and the arts — all on one walkable campus in Omaha, NE, Creighton University is well-configured to foster interdisciplinary research and education.

Interdisciplinary research and scholarship projects provide especially enriching opportunities for Creighton students — undergraduate, graduate and professional alike. Otherwise, students may find their awareness and knowledge are limited to the perspective of only their chosen discipline or major.

In fact, the University is making such pursuits (especially over the next ten years, prior to its 150th anniversary) a priority, specifically calling out inter-professional education in The Creighton 150 Strategic Plan: Lighting the Way.

The strategic plan, the result of more than two years of in-depth, comprehensive planning, is now in its implementation phase. One of the plan’s academic goals is to foster greater interdisciplinary and interprofessional learning, research activities and service experiences.

One initiative designed to meet that goal is the new Kingfisher Institute for Liberal Arts and Professions. The Institute, formally inaugurated in January 2019, provides synergies for liberal arts and professional education to mutually reinforce and strengthen each other. This year’s programming will focus on two themes: ‘Narratives of Health and Illness’ and ‘Race in America: 1919-2019.’

Tracy Leavelle, Ph.D., associate professor of history and the Institute’s first director, said that the Institute will encourage “creative new initiatives that will unite, in the best Jesuit tradition, the contemplative features of the liberal arts with the emphasis on practice in the professions. We’re preparing students for 21st century careers and professions, careers that might be multiple in scope. Careers that, more than likely, we don’t even know about yet.”

In that vein, Creighton is also home to the Center for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (CIPER). This innovative enterprise, one of the first in the nation, ensures that students in Creighton’s health sciences programs receive an education that prepares them to collaborate and share knowledge with other health care professionals in their future careers.

“Building a better world starts with individuals committed to the challenging art of finding ways to work together to create better systems for collaboration,” said Joy Doll, O.T.D., executive director of CIPER.

Gregrey Berry, a second-year medical student, is one of the many Creighton students whose education is being shaped by CIPER. “Fundamentally, interprofessional care is about treating a patient as a whole person. Each profession involved in a patient’s care looks at an important but relatively narrow slice of the patient’s health and well-being,” Berry said. “The goal of interprofessional care is to allow these slices to integrate into a picture that shows the full spectrum of a patient’s health situation.”

Terry Clark, Ph.D., professor of political science, and Crysta Price, director of Creighton’s data science lab, collaborate as co-directors of The Human Trafficking Initiative (photo by Creighton University)

Terry Clark, Ph.D., professor of political science, and Crysta Price, director of Creighton’s data science lab, collaborate as co-directors of The Human Trafficking Initiative (photo by Creighton University)

Another Creighton interdisciplinary initiative is the Doctorate of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership (Ed.D.) program. Typical graduates of the Ed.D. program come from all walks of life and go on to follow career paths as leaders in fields including business, the military, education and health care.

The number of interdisciplinary efforts underway on Creighton’s campus makes them too numerous to list. But a few more examples include:

  • The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI): With support from the Heider College of Business, HTI uses data science to collect, analyze and evaluate the scope of human trafficking and identify policy solutions. HTI’s co-directors, Crysta Price, director of the data science lab, and Terry Clark, Ph.D., professor of political science, combine expertise from two academic disciplines — data science and social science — to supply solid data and research on the prevalence and causes of human trafficking, and identify and evaluate strategies for local, national and international organizations that are also tackling the issue.

  • Department of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Graduate School: The department offers robust interdisciplinary educational experiences. In addition to the Ed.D., the department offers Master’s degrees in organizational leadership, negotiation and conflict resolution, health care ethics, public health, and health and wellness coaching.

Creighton’s schools and colleges also offer a number of interdisciplinary or joint degree programs:

  • A 3/3 Law Program that allows students to complete business and law degrees in six years;

  • A Pre-Healthcare Program in the Heider College of Business that combines a business degree with completion of admission requirements for medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, physical therapy or occupational therapy;

  • A M.D./MBA Program that results in completion of a MBA during the third year of medical school;

  • An Executive MBA in Healthcare Management, which provides clinicians and advanced clinicians with business expertise.

Often, interdisciplinary research at Creighton leads to collaboration with other universities and community partners. For example, the Creighton University Health Sciences Continuing Education Consortium (composed of the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Health Professions, the College of Nursing and clinical partner, CHI Health) hosts an annual pain management conference. Last year’s conference for regional health care providers addressed issues related to opioid prescriptions and abuse.

Creighton’s RaD Lab (short for research and development laboratory) grew from its original goal to build a supercomputer and soon attracted student interns from all walks of academe — biology, mathematics, psychology, history, business and music. Today, the RaD Lab counts more than 30 interns from all disciplines (including those from local high schools and universities), working on upwards of two to three dozen projects at any given time.

And the upcoming Heartland Inter-professional Education Conference, “Come Together to Work Together” (scheduled for August 2019), is a collaborative effort between Creighton and the University of Nebraska Medical Center that will feature presentations describing inter-professional research and developments in curriculum, assessment, policy and practice.

“We are building bridges across institutions both locally and regionally,” said Gail Jensen, Ph.D., Creighton’s Vice Provost for Learning and Assessment, and a nationally recognized leader in inter-professional education. “Together, they will support the movement toward inter-professional education and collaborative practice.”