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Acad Med. 2006 Aug;81(8):749-58.

Effective interdisciplinary training: lessons from the University of North Carolina's student health action coalition.

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University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.



To identify essential elements of effective interdisciplinary training through an evaluation of the University of North Carolina's Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), an interdisciplinary service learning program for health science students.


In 2004, 516 SHAC volunteers were asked to complete a 52-item, online questionnaire. Responses were tallied by volunteer role, and four of the resulting "divisions" (counseling, medical care, interpretation, and community outreach) were analyzed using qualitative and quantitative rating schemas. The four divisions were compared on volunteers' perception of two concepts: (1) the level of interdisciplinary training achieved and (2) the potential for working together, or "community capacity."


A total of 283 students accessed the online questionnaire, and 281 provided consent and filled out some portion of the questionnaire, an overall response rate of 54%. A total of 159 of the 281 respondents (57%) reported volunteering most often for one of the four divisions of interest. The respondents in each volunteer division reported a level of interdisciplinary training similar to that division's level of community capacity. The division responsible for counseling services indicated the least interdisciplinary training, earning 4 points on an 8-point rating schema. This group also reported low levels of participation, group skills, information sharing, shared values, sense of community, and social networks. The community outreach division reported the highest level of interdisciplinary training, receiving 8 out of 8 points. They also had high levels of participation, group skills, information sharing, networking, and sense of community.


Effective interdisciplinary training goes hand in hand with five elements identified from the community capacity literature: participation, training in group skills, information sharing, networking, and critical reflection. Program planners and evaluators should pay particular attention to the social environment so as not to reinforce professional stereotypes that interdisciplinary programs are meant to dispel.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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