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How to Plan an Interprofessional Conference

By IHI Open School | Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The following post about planning the IHI Open School West Coast conference was written by Kelsey Priest, MPH, Rebekah Bally, and Cally Kamiya, MPH.

Interprofessionalism. What does it mean? Why is it important? What does it look like? As health professions students of the 21st century, we’re exploring the answers to these questions in our interprofessional education curriculum at Oregon Health and Science University and Portland State University, and through extra-curricular activities with the IHI Open School.

The three of us met through our local IHI Open School Chapter while studying public health. Over the last year, together we have learned about quality improvement and population health. We have also initiated small-scale projects to improve health in our local communities through our training in the IHI Change Agent Network.

One of our recent projects for the last academic year was the creation, planning, and implementation of a free large-scale interprofessional learning event for students across the IHI Open School West Coast Region. This April, we hosted 160 local and regional students in Portland for the very first West Coast Regional Conference.


The conference brought together an interprofessional cohort of keynote speakers from across the country (in public health, nursing, management, and medicine) and our 13 breakout sessions, hosted by 39 different facilitators, were focused on a wide variety of pertinent interprofessional issues such as: how to use social movements to improve health care, the criminal legal system and nutrition, leadership in health care, the OpenNotes movement, quality improvement and data, improvement training techniques, and health care simulation.

Planning a conference of this scope and size was a daunting task. However, we believe our team succeeded because of our intentional group development, organization, and planning, which started nine months in advance of the event in July of 2014.

The vision for our conference was to educate and empower learners to be interprofessional collaborators with each other, their patients, their communities, and their health systems by:

  1. Disseminating evidence-based methods of interprofessional team-based care that enhance patient safety.
  2. Exploring system redesign and opportunities for multiple sectors and professions to interface to design a health services delivery system capable of achieving the Triple Aim.
  3. Spreading health systems improvement best-practices from interprofessional and student-led improvement projects.

We organized ourselves as a team using Marshall Ganz’s “snowflake” model of leadership. This model uses a non-hierarchical structure that deploys many interdependent leaders who work closely together. By distributing the work and the decision making, and by relying on each others’ strengths and resources, we made a large-scale project feasible for a diverse group of busy students. In the end, we had participants from the fields of nursing, medicine, public health, health management, public administration, and pre-health students from three Chapters, including PSU & OHSU, the University of Washington, and the University of Colorado.

Here are a few of the things we learned from planning a large-scale event (Learn more in our full conference planning guide here):

  1. Establishing a theme and aim for the conference is helpful for guiding all conference decisions. Ours was interprofessionalism.
  2. Teamwork and sharing responsibility is critical for success!
  3. Sustaining teams over a long period of time (nine months, in our case) takes thoughtful re-engagement along the way.
  4. Delineation of team responsibilities from the start is important to make sure each group is working to their full capacity.
  5. Increased and targeted advertising is paramount to achieve full participation in all aspects of the conference.

We also recommend asking attendees for feedback. We received some really positive feedback, such as this comment from one participant: “The content was so compelling and interesting…The interactivity enhanced learning, because hearing something and actually trying it are so different.” But we also really valued the constructive feedback. For example, one participant pointed out that there wasn’t much promotion of the event in the dental, nutrition, nursing, and pharmacy schools.

The planning of the conference has been an amazing learning and leadership experience for us, and we remain committed to interprofessional collaboration in our future work.

Interested in planning your own conference? We have created a process checklist, planning outline, and templates to support students in conference and event planning. Please see our Conference Resource Planning Document here.

Adapted from an original post by Kelsey Priest, MPH, forOHSU’s SOM Student Speak Blog on March 18, 2015. 

The West Coast Conference was possible with the generous support of the IHI Open School, the PSU & OHSU IHI Open School Chapter, the OHSU Office of the Provost, the PSU Speakers Board, FamilyCare Health, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, OHSU School of Nursing, OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU All Hill Council, the Oregon Patient Safety Commission, and over 30 student and faculty volunteers.


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