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Qualitative evaluation of interprofessional learning initiatives in practice: application of the contact hypothesis

Penny J. Furness*1, Helen R. Armitage2, Richard Pitt3
1Faculty of Development and Society, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
2Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
3Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, UK
*Corresponding author
© 2012 Penny J. Furness et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited.
Research article
Int J Med Educ. 2012; 3:83-91
Submitted: January 24, 2012; Accepted: April 22, 2012; Published: April 29, 2012
DOI: 10.5116/ijme.4f94.8831

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The evaluation aimed to explore reactions to, learning from and the perceived impact and sustainability of practice-based interprofessional learning initiatives established by The Trent Universities Interprofessional Learning in Practice project.


The evaluation had a qualitative design and was guided by Kirkpatrick's evaluation framework. Facilitators, managers, practitioners, students and service users were invited to participate. This article focuses upon three of the project's practice-based interprofessional initiatives. Fifteen participants were interviewed about their experiences of, and opinions about, the initiative in their practice setting. A thematic analysis was conducted, following which findings were considered through the lens of the 'contact hypothesis' a theoretical framework which sets out variables purported to influence the success of inter-group contact.


Seven themes were identified. Four derived from Kirkpatrick's framework: reaction, learning, impact and sustainability. Initial reactions were positive; however learning and impact were considered minimal, and sustainability unlikely. The evaluation revealed significant problems in developing successful, sustainable, service user-focused interprofessional learning opportunities in these three sites. Three final themes were based upon contact hypothesis variables which helped elucidate the disappointing outcomes: organisational support, positive expectations, and co-operation/working together.


Results offer insights which could help medical education establishments and their practice partners develop successful practice-based interprofessional learning initiatives for students in the future. Initiatives should be designed to meet local working practices and opportunities; there should be an awareness that change is challenging and time-consuming; and preparation of and support in host organisations at all levels should be a priority.

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