SRU students discuss ‘live case study’ at interprofessional education event


Jennifer Bruno

Jennifer Bruno, the mother of a child with vision impairment and autism spectrum disorder, addresses more than 220 Slippery Rock University students at the SRU Interprofessional Education Committee’s Interdisciplinary Case Presentation, Nov. 13. Photos by Elizabeth Linton, a sophomore music performance and music therapy major from Cranberry Township.

Nov. 19, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — When more than 220 Slippery Rock University students sang happy birthday to Cassie Bruno the week of her 14th birthday, it wasn't a celebratory party that brought the group together. Rather, the contingent of future health care professionals had gathered to listen to Bruno's mother, Jennifer, share her daughter's story and answer questions about their lives.

The students were using the occasion, an Interdisciplinary Case Presentation hosted by the SRU Interprofessional Education Committee, to learn how best to work together across multiple disciplines to provide better care for patients, especially those like Cassie with unique needs.

The Nov. 13 event at the Smith Student Center Ballroom featured students representing 12 academic programs at SRU discussing how their respective health care professions could best serve "live case study" subjects, and in this particular instance, the Bruno family from Cecil Township.

"This is so different from a class where we would read case study after case study and research topics; having a real person there had much more impact," said Alaina Stroud, a senior dual music therapy and music education major from Aliquippa. "We sometimes forget there's a real person we're trying to help. This brought the realities to life."

Alaina Stroud


An IPE committee was formed at SRU in 2016 with one of the aims being to prepare health profession students to deliberately work together with the common goal of building a safer patient-centered and community-oriented health care system. One way of doing this is by hosting events like the Interdisciplinary Case Presentation where students attend, either as volunteers or to fulfill a course requirement, and learn from live case study subjects.

Undergraduate and graduate students from all four of SRU's colleges attended, representing majors that included nursing, physical therapy, public health, social work, exercise science, athletic training, recreational therapy, music therapy, health care administration, occupational therapy, physician assistant, and counseling and development.

For the Nov. 13 event, Jennifer and Cassie Bruno were invited to campus to have Jennifer talk about the challenges her family has encountered. Cassie was born premature, weighing only 1-pound, 4 ounces at birth, before spending 114 days in an intensive care unit. During that time she was diagnosed as being blind with retinopathy. She was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and other language and communication disorders.

"This event gives students an idea of what the family has experienced with the health care system," said Michelle Crytzer, associate professor of nursing and chair of the IPE committee. "The students are provided a list of questions to help spur conversation about how their specific profession would care for the patient, and they come up with their own questions from the discussion. It's an interesting learning experience for the students because professors are not just teaching them, they are learning about, from and with each other. That is more impactful because that is what they'll be doing in a work setting."

One of the students in attendance can attest to the impact of interprofessional collaboration. Renee Jannetti, an online graduate student majoring public health from Cranberry Township, has spent the last 17 years working as a staff nurse at UPMC Shadyside Hospital, including nine years in the ICU and the last two years as the nurse manager in the electrophysiology lab.

"This was a perfect forum to see someone's struggles and the red tape they have to go through to get services," Jannetti said. "It was eye-opening to me, not because I didn't realize it as a health care professional, but sometimes you don't see that outpatient part of (the process)."

The students at Jannetti's table were particularly curious about how Jennifer Bruno, as a primary caregiver, managed without using respite care or other social services that provided cared for her daughter when Cassie's parents were working.

"It's essential for students to know they have to work with other disciplines in a collaborative way to do what's best for the patient," Jannetti said. "I was telling the students at my table that I've been in the health care system for quite a while and it's important to bring your voices together, whether that's to better communicate or change policy and legislation."

"Jennifer made a point that there needs to be more of a choice in what is being covered (by insurance companies) because every client is being motivated in different ways," Stroud said. "One type of therapy might not work as well for one patient as it does for another."

Stroud was encouraged to learn that Cassie Bruno benefited from music therapy; however, that type of therapy is not covered by her medical insurance.

"It was nice to advocate for my program because it's the lesser known of the types of therapies," Stroud said. "We need to continue to advocate for our programs in the health care field and work to fix a system that has potential, but sometimes we forget there's a real person we're trying to help."

Another benefit of the event, beyond finding solutions for patient care, is the professional development IPE provides students.

"It makes our students more competitive when they understand how to work with other professions," said Joseph Robare, SRU associate professor of public health and social work. "We're trying to build IPE and interprofessional practice on campus to a higher level."

"If we develop their skills now, when they graduate they'll be ready to enter the workforce to work as a team member in an interprofessional setting," Crytzer added.

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