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AAL Newsletter

Overcoming Barriers to Interprofessional Education: Lessons from Interdisciplinary Research

by N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.
Karl Haden

For all the benefits of interprofessionalism in the health sciences—some of which the spring newsletter outlined—progress may be hindered by a number of challenges. Like my previous article, this one draws on research on interdisciplinarity in universities, but focusing here on barriers to collaboration and ways to overcome them. What can we learn from this literature to help advocates of interprofessional education better understand the challenges they face?

This body of research explains, first, that the typical inner workings of disciplines generate inherent barriers. In Siedlok and Hibbert’s words, disciplines develop distinctive ways of “deriving meaning in an area of study” that range from research methodologies, approaches to data generation, and authorship practices to “systems of beliefs and values shared by researchers.”1 These paradigms not only draw boundaries around an intellectual community but establishes its criteria for excellence and defines which types of research questions and methods are valid.2Work outside those sanctioned practices may seem “soft” or marginal to specialists unfamiliar with other disciplines’ standards. These distinctive practices extend to a discipline’s terminology, so that Bridle et al. report “communication has often proven to be a stumbling block in the formation of new collaborations among disciplines,”3with the well-known result of researchers from different fields “speaking different languages” or “talking past each other.”

Since disciplines generally align with university departments, other barriers arise from the distinctive operations of academic institutions. What Sá calls the “disciplinary departmental nexus” has existed for over a hundred years in American universities.4 Institutional theorists, summarized by Sá, explain that such arrangements eventually “come to be seen as ‘natural,’” with a network of personnel structures, processes, and culture defined as the unit’s tradition. Entrenched interests become manifest in those who retain power over present and future operations through control of hiring and promotion—a situation that tends to perpetuate the status quo and results in resistance to change. Universities’ current financial challenges and the inevitable internal competition for attention and resources pose additional barriers for advocates of change. Particular constraints exist for the health professions due to their highly structured curricula, stringent graduation requirements, and separation from other parts of the campus, all tending to keep the attention of faculty, students, and administrators focused within their own academic unit.

These disciplinary and institutional practices lead to barriers faced by individual faculty members and students. Drawing on previous studies and their survey of environmental researchers, Roy et al. explain that those pursuing interdisciplinary research must find the time and energy to learn about other disciplines, overcome communication challenges and sometimes tension with collaborators, and find mentoring and funding alternatives if their efforts lack support in their own department.5 Roy et al.’s survey also found that 83 percent of their respondents had often or sometimes faced difficulties in publishing their research because it “did not adhere to or fit neatly within traditional disciplinary frameworks.” With research and publication tied directly to academic rewards systems, faculty members working towards promotion and tenure, as well as graduate students seeking academic posts, are particularly affected.

In spite of the barriers, however, interdisciplinarity is growing in the university environment, and research is identifying keys to success and models to follow. As always in academics, leadership is critical. Though the stimulus for interdisciplinary endeavors may be bottom-up or top-down, validation of interdisciplinarity ultimately depends on support from upper-level management (presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, etc.) because it likely involves allocation of resources, policy change, and articulation of priorities in, for instance, strategic plans and mission statements. Harris’s 2010 study of U.S. research universities that have adopted interdisciplinarity highlights supportive strategies that foster a collaborative climate: these range from seed money for interdisciplinary projects, creation of campus-wide research units, and support for interdepartmental hires to revision of tenure and promotion policies and construction of interdisciplinary facilities.6 Harris’s findings emphasize the necessary “role of senior administrative leadership to demonstrate that collaboration is a priority both symbolically and substantively.”

Among his many examples of institutional statements, Harris notes that the University of Colorado ties its support for interdisciplinary research “to its mission as a public institution” and the University of Minnesota ties theirs to its “land grant mission” and “the needs and resources of Minnesota.” Harris also quotes now former Chancellor James Moeser of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explaining his vision for interdisciplinarity: “Only a truly great university can bring all the resources needed to examine [interdisciplinary] issues from all perspectives. We intend to be that university.”

For health professions schools interested in promoting interprofessional education (IPE), the good news is that many are part of the universities in Harris’s study as well as other universities and health science centers embracing interdisciplinarity. Western University of Health Sciences in California, for instance, now has a Department of Interprofessional Education that coordinates and supports collaborations across its nine colleges.7 Schools that move toward IPE may thus align themselves more closely with the priorities of their parent institutions. Support for IPE may also come from national funding guidelines and growing college-level interdisciplinarity, which in time may supply the health professions with students and faculty more attuned to collaborative ways of thinking (see the April 2014 newsletter for examples). Demographic trends will continue to raise population-based issues, such as those regarding the burgeoning elderly population, that require involvement of multiple health professions for effective resolution. In order to ease concerns and build understanding among disciplinary specialists, schools should also consider management strategies like interdepartmental working groups, cultivation of core opinion leaders, and faculty development that educates individuals about other professions and the range of collaborative projects possible.

Many of these moves supporting IPE are demonstrated by recent developments at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry. As Dr. Jeffery Stewart explains, his school’s introduction of IPE has been supported by the health science center’s Provost, who provides funds for a steering committee; a core group of committed faculty members, who develop courses and define competencies; and their students, who see the benefits of IPE in courses and through collaborative practice in clinical rotations.8 The developments Stewart describes show that barriers to IPE can indeed be overcome.


  1. Siedlok F, Hibbert P. “The Organization of Interdisciplinary Research: Modes, Drivers, and Barriers.” International Journal of Management Reviews 16, no. 2 (2014): 194-210.
  2. Haden K. “Is Interprofessionalism a Paradigm Shift?”  AAL Newsletter, December 2013 .
  3. Bridle H, Vrieling A, Cardillo M, et al. “Preparing for an Interdisciplinary Future: A Perspective from Early-Career Researchers.” Futures 53 (2013): 22-32.
  4. Sá CM. “‘Interdisciplinary Strategies’ in U.S. Research Universities.” Higher Education 55 (2008): 537-52.
  5. Roy ED, Morzillo AT, Seijo F, et al. “The Elusive Pursuit of Interdisciplinarity at the Human-Environment Interface.” BioScience 63, no. 9 (2013): 745-53.
  6. Harris M. “Interdisciplinary Study and Collaboration: A Case Study of American Research Universities.” Journal of Research Administration 41, no. 1 (2010): 22-34.
  7. Formicola AJ, Andrieu SC, Buchanan JA, et al. “Interprofessional Education in U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools: An ADEA Team Study Group Report.”Journal of Dental Education 76, no. 9 (2012): 1250-68.
  8. Dr. Jeffery Stewart on Interprofessional Education.
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Why Soft Skills Aren’t “Soft”

by Marcia M. Ditmyer, Ph.D.
Marcia Ditmyer

Today, emerging leaders will likely have a degree…

… Technical qualifications (competent to perform the tasks)…

…and work experience …

…but what about the personal attributes that enable leaders to interact effectively and harmoniously with others?

“Soft” introduces a spectrum of connotations. Where skills or competencies are concerned, the term is juxtaposed to “hard.” The implication is that hard skills are somehow substantial, while soft skills are somewhat ethereal.  Some might believe that soft skills are easier to acquire and less demanding than the rigor necessary to develop hard skills. These nuances might spring from our notions of the sciences—empirical, measurable, practical—compared to the humanities—intuitive, indefinite, and valued as intrinsically good rather than instrumentally so.

Rather than soft, I suggest we think of these skills as essential skills for leaders. Technical or “hard skills” are non-essential. In leadership, one can find people who can do the technical things, but communication, motivation, social adeptness, vision—essential skills for leadership—are harder to come by. Hard skills are less important as one assumes more responsibility as a leader; so-called “soft skills” are the sine qua non for effective leadership. They are essential.

Today’s emerging leaders must display innovative, cultural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills in the broadest possible sense. Interpersonal and relationship-building skills help people communicate and collaborate effectively. Such skills are overlooked and undervalued by many of today’s students, faculty, and administrators.

What are these leadership skills and why are they so critical?  These essential skills include:

  • Effective communication
  • Acting as a team player
  • Networking
  • Problem solving and critical thinking
  • Professionalism
  • Accepting feedback and applying lessons learned
  • Working collaboratively
  • Managing time
  • Personal confidence
  • Social integrity

These are skills that will help anyone in a wide range of jobs, not just a current or target position.

To get and keep a job, one must be competent in certain technical skills. However, given the same technical skills and level of competence, what is the primary reason one person is chosen over another for promotion and advancement?  While the technical skills and competency get one’s foot in the door, essential leadership skills push that door open wide.  One mistake that should not be overlooked is the assumption these essential skills are easily mastered. Many people never become competent in these interpersonal abilities and never fulfill their potential.

The work environment has evolved and the interpersonal dynamic no longer can be ignored. The acts of listening, presenting ideas, resolving conflict, and fostering an open and honest work environment all come down to knowing how to build and maintain relationships with people. It’s those relationships that allow people to participate fully in team projects, show appreciation for others, and enlist support for their projects.

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CAAMP 2014 Best Ever

CAAMP 2014 Group Photo

The 2014 Chairs and Academic Administrators Management Program (CAAMP) was held on July 17-19 in Atlanta, Georgia. CAAMP is an interprofessional, open-enrollment course designed for administrative leaders in health professions education.

During the 3-day CAAMP, 55 participants – more than ever before in the six-year-old program - developed their leadership abilities through personal assessments and through peer feedback and individualized, professional coaching. Sessions included learning to lead, managing new tasks and challenges, faculty performance and assessment, strategic planning and budgeting, conflict management, work-life balance, and legal issues in academia. Participants included faculty and administrators from medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, public health, and other professions.


“This was an incredible program that provides a guide with respect to budgets, conflict management, strategic planning and balancing your life in situations where that may not seem possible!  It equips you with tools to skillfully navigate your position and provides an invaluable networking experience. I highly recommend it to anyone transitioning to a Chair or administrative position.” - Rebecca Giusti, DO, Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific.

“Invaluable program that has shining pearls of wisdom that apply in situations common to all academic settings and institutions.” - Paul E. Kilgore, MPH, MD, Wayne State University, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Lucinda Maine, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). Dr. Maine spoke about the role of department chairs in the contemporary movement of interprofessional education (IPE). To view the highlight video of this keynote speech, click here.

Next year’s CAAMP will be held in Atlanta, GA on July 23-25, 2015.


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New JDE Publication from AAL’s MA Graduate


Marc Kunin, D.D.S., M.A., is the Associate Director of Postgraduate Endodontics in Department of Dental Medicine at Lutheran Medical Center (Brooklyn, NY) and a graduate of theADEA/AAL/University of the Pacific’s Master’s Degree in Dental Education. Dr. Kunin recently published the results of his Master’s project in the June 2014 issue of theJournal of Dental Education (JED). In his article, “Comparing Face-to-Face, Synchronous, and Asynchronous Learning: Postgraduate Dental Resident Preferences”, Dr. Kunin evaluated the effectiveness of an asynchronous curriculum at Lutheran Medical Center. The study focused on whether the asynchronous format (online, recorded lectures) satisfied the educational needs of the residents compared to traditional lectures (face-to-face) and synchronous (online, live) formats. His results indicate that the asynchronous format can be an effective way to teach students in postgraduate programs. Dr. Kunin is now in the process of following up on these studies for future projects.

Link to this JDE article click here.


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Marcia Ditmyer joins AAL as Vice President

Marcia Ditmyer

AAL welcomes Dr. Marcia Ditmyer, who joined AAL on August 1, 2014 as Vice President!

Marcia Ditmyer, Ph.D., M.S., M.B.A.
Vice President of AAL

Before joining AAL, Dr. Ditmyer was Director of Outcoms Assessment for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Dental Medicine. In this capacity she provided guidance and oversight of academic assessment functions, as well as assisted in statistics/measurement tasks for the school. Dr. Ditmyer holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo in Health Education/Public Health, and Research and Measurement. Dr. Ditmyer’s expertise includes strategic planning trend analysis for environmental scanning, curriculum development and evaluation, and creation of curriculum mapping models that focus on the desired students’ learning and teaching initiatives. Dr. Ditmyer also has worked in building inter-institutional collaborations in academic assessment and research across colleges and programs. Dr. Ditmyer is a graduate of the ADEA Leadership Institute.

You can contact Dr. Ditmyer at mditmyer@aalgroup.org.

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AAL’s Felicia Tucker-Lively Receives Ph.D. in Education Leadership

Felicia Tucker-Lively

AAL congratulates its staff member Dr. Felicia Tucker-Lively for her great achievement in receiving a doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Mercer University!

Dr. Tucker-lively’s dissertation is titled “The Relationship Between Human Resource Management Practices And Turnover Intentions Of Mid-Level Administrators,” under the direction of Edward L. Bouie, Jr., Ed.D.


Although “talented employees with unique knowledge and skills are increasingly being viewed as a valuable asset and a source of competitive advantage” in the private sector (Yukl, 2008, p. 710), identification, selection, and development of potential leaders are often inadequate or too late in public institutions (Bisbee, 2007).  Studies have addressed the complexity of administrative roles and what makes mid-level administrators successful in their roles. Additional examination of mid-level professionals in academia is warranted, especially the use of human resource practices to improve their current roles and prepare them for more challenging senior executive positions.

The redesign of resources and programs is a struggle for public colleges, universities and community colleges as these institutions face challenges in keeping up with their private and for-profit counter parts (Evans & Chun, 2012).   With human resource management (HRM) practices characterized as “human capital systems that leverage talent” (Evans & Chun, 2012, p. 45), an examination of whether there is a relationship between perceptions of HRM practices and turnover intentions of mid-level administrators in public doctorate-granting universities was the focus of this study.  In addition, obtaining clarity on the mediating role played by perceived organizational support and organizational commitment was of interest (Allen, Shore, & Griffeth, 2003; Joarder et al., 2011).

Additional empirical evidence may better equip public doctorate-granting universities to reduce the turnover of its “unsung professionals” (Rosser, 2004, p. 317) by incorporating “different configurations or bundles of HRM practices” (Smeenk et al., 2006, p. 2035) suitable for their context and for maintaining “a competitive workforce” (Jo, 2008, p. 579).  This study utilized a quantitative correlation approach to investigate the relationship between HRM practices and turnover intentions of mid-level administrators in public higher education institutions. Regression analysis was used to determine the predictive relationship among HRM practices, perceived organizational support, organizational commitment, and turnover intentions.


Allen, D. G., Shore, L. M., & Griffeth, R. W. (2003). The role of perceived organizational support and supportive human resource practices in turnover process. Journal of Management, 29, 99-118.

Bisbee, D. C. (2007). Looking for leaders: Current practices in leadership identification in higher education. Planning and Changing. 38(1), 77-88.

Evans, A., & Chun, E. (2012). Creating a tipping point: Strategic human resources in higher education. In K. Ward & L. E. Wolf-Wendel (Series Eds.), ASHE Higher Education Report, 38(1). California: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Jo, V. H. (2008). Voluntary turnover and women administrators in higher education. Higher Education. 56, 565-582.

Joarder, M.H.R., Sharif, M.Y., Ahmmed, K. (2011) Mediating role of affective commitment in HRM practices and turnover intention relationship: A study in a developing context. Business and Economics Research Journal, 2(4), 135-158.

Rosser, V. J. (2000). Midlevel administrators: What we know. In L. K. Johnsrud & V. J. Rosser (Eds.), Understanding the work and career paths of mid-level administrators (pp. 5-13). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Smeenk, S. G. A., Eisinga, R. N., Teelken, J. C. & Doorewaard, J. A. C. M. (2006). The effect of HRM practices and antecedents on organizational commitment among university employees. International Journal of Human Resources Management, 17(12), 2035-2054.

Yukl, G. (2008). How leaders influence organizational effectiveness. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(6), 708-722.


Felicia Tucker-Lively, M.P.H., Ph.D.

Felicia Tucker-Lively is the Project Manager for AAL. In the role, Dr. Tucker-Lively provides the managerial support and administrative services for the AAL’s professional development programs. Her areas of interest are professional and organizational development; strategic talent management; human resource management; and career path learning and development. She has experience in administration, operational management, and program coordination at Morehouse School of Medicine, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, and Brooklyn Hospital Center. Her background involves working with executive leadership teams to solve problems, develop alternatives, and create efficiencies for improving program quality. She received a Bachelor of Science in Human Services from Cornell University College of Human Ecology in New York and her Masters of Public Health in Socio-medical Science from Columbia University School of Public Health. She recently received a Ph.D. in Education Leadership from Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia.

You can contact Dr. Tucker-Lively at f.tucker-lively@aalgroup.org.

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Upcoming AAL Programs in 2014 and 2015

Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL

Men's Searching for MeaningThe premier teacher development for dental and dental hygiene educators, and pathway to a Master’s Degree in Dental Education.

Phase I: August 14-16, 2014  Atlanta, GA
Phase II: October 16-18, 2014  Atlanta, GA

Register online by August 7, 2014


Compass Program for Academic Advancement (Compass)

Independent, interprofessional training for all early- and mid-career faculty to develop skills in conducting educational research, grant writing, and writing for publication.

NEW - Compass 3-day Program: September 17-19, 2014  Atlanta, GA

Register online now



Institute for Allied Health Educators (IAHE)

Convenient, collaborative, cutting-edge online teaching and learning programs.

Revitalizing Curriculum and Calibrating Faculty: October-November 2014

Register online now


Institute for Teaching and Learning – Dubai (ITL-Dubai)

Interprofessional teacher development program for faculty on the current trends, standards, and best practices in health professions education. 

NEW & INTERNATIONAL -  November 11-13, 2014 Dubai, UAE

Register online now


Clinical Research Foundations Program – Dubai (CRF-Dubai)

Interprofessional training program focused on the foundations of conducting clinical research in an academic environment.

NEW & INTERNATIONAL -  December 9-11, 2014 Dubai, UAE

Register online now


Master’s Degree in Dental Education (MA)

In partnership with the University of the Pacific and ADEA, AAL presents the only Master’s program created for dental educators.

Online sessions: January-March, 2015
Onsite sessions: March, June, and October 2015  San Francisco, CA

Register online by October 17, 2014


Chairs and Academic Administrators Management Program (CAAMP)

Practical, applicable management and leadership training for current and future deans, chairs, and other academic administrators.

July 23-25, 2015  Atlanta, GA

Register online now

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ADEA Presents its 5th International Women’s Leadership Conference (IWLC)



“Global Health Through Women’s Leadership”

Dates: Sep 14-16, 2014
Venue: Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel
Location: Plaza Europa, 50 – 52 | 08902 L´Hospitalet de llobregat | Barcelona 08902, Spain
Register Now

Beginning immediately after the ADEA International Workshop, this three-day conference—for both men and women dental educators, health researchers, and industry professionals—promises to offer fresh insight and perspectives to foster growth in the global community of women’s leadership. Learn from some of the world’s foremost thought-leaders and emerging pioneers about how women are forging new pathways to help advance future generations and their contributions to better health outcomes globally and why dentistry is primed to help advance women’s leadership.


“A Global Perspective on Leading Change and Innovation in Dental Education”
Sept. 14, 2014 | 10 AM–4 PM
Register Now

This one-day workshop offers a unique opportunity for dental educators and practitioners worldwide to discuss change and innovation on local and global levels—all with the goal of sharing and gaining insight into a range of areas such as curricular change, faculty development, and policy change. This international workshop represents the first opportunity to further engage a global audience on efforts through the ADEA Commission on Change and Innovation in Dental Education, which was created in 2005 to facilitate transformation in the education of dental professionals so they graduate with the competences required to meet the oral health needs of the public throughout the 21st century.

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“I’m Not Paying for Your Opinion”

by Rob Jenkins

Perhaps, in order to explain Arum and Roksa’s now infamous findings in Intellectually Adrift1 , we need look no further than the current customer service culture. That thought came to me after a recent incident in my introductory rhetoric course.

We were talking about the way that social mores and public opinions change over time, and how writing both influences and reflects those changes. When I broached one particularly controversial issue, a student interjected, “But that’s just your opinion, and I’m not paying for your opinion.”

Okay, then.

In fact, I had not been expressing a personal opinion; rather, I was exploring a variety of other people’s opinions and inviting students to evaluate them critically. But that’s really beside the point. The more I think about the episode, the more I realize just how wrong-headed that student’s comment was on so many levels.

For one thing, there’s nothing that says students have a right to be shielded from opinions they don’t like, or even a right not to be offended. Of course, as a teacher, I always try to be careful what I say. I’m not a proponent of the “shock-jock” school of pedagogy, intentionally setting out to provoke or offend students—although I know people who do teach that way, including some of my former professors.

However, it’s virtually impossible to talk about important issues like race, gender, religion, sexuality, evolution, abortion, or justice without saying something—or assigning some reading, or making some allusion—that might be offensive to somebody. Yet it’s a vital part of their education for students to read and think and talk about such issues, examining their own beliefs and assumptions in light of what great thinkers past and present have had to say. That’s a major part of what we mean when we use the term “critical thinking.”

Students also need to learn that being offended is an emotional response, not a rational one. If you don’t like something I’ve said—or, as in this case, something somebody else said—don’t just get upset about it. See if you can formulate a cogent rebuttal. That, too, is a key element of critical thinking.

Finally—and most importantly—students should understand that they are in fact paying for our opinions. That’s not to say that faculty members should necessarily tell students what to think, but we do have a responsibility to teach them how to think. And that involves, in part, exposing them to what others have thought—including, when appropriate, ourselves.

The truth is that much of what I say in class, from the points I make about literary works to the way I teach argumentative writing, is (objectively speaking) a matter of opinion. Or, if we’re not comfortable with the word “opinion,” perhaps we can call it “professional judgment.” Certainly, it’s informed opinion, based on years of training, study, and experience; in many cases, it’s probably consensus opinion, reflecting the best minds in my field. But in the final analysis, it’s still opinion.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately, that is what students are paying us for: not just what we know, but what we think about what we know, the well-tended and painstakingly-harvested fruits of our long intellectual husbandry.

Yet somewhere along the line, students seem to have acquired the notion that college professors are supposed to be mere dispensers of knowledge, functioning as a sort of human Wikipedia—or at least, the way they imagine that Wikipedia functions, not realizing, perhaps, how much of what’s posted there is ultimately someone’s opinion.

Additionally, the current emphasis on “customer service” in academe seems to have given some students the impression that they have the right to “purchase” only those ideas that they personally agree with, and that all other ideas or opinions are at best irrelevant and at worst akin to faulty products or unsatisfactory service.

No wonder Arum and Roksa found that many students aren’t developing critical thinking skills in college. How can they, when the culture tells them that they don’t have to grapple with ideas they don’t like—ideas that, in their minds, they’re “not paying for.”


1. Arum, R., Roska, J.  Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. 2011, University Of Chicago Press.

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Dr. Tandra Atkins

NYU Lutheran Medical Center

"The AAL team has enhanced my knowledge and decision making tools, objective analysis, and creativity in a radically changing health care environment."