Infusing university curricula with person-centered care

By Helle Gjønnes Møller

Numerous studies have shown that person-centered care (PCC) offers a series of benefits, such as increased customer satisfaction, improved efficiency, lower return rates, and greater job satisfaction. In many educational settings, however, the focus is mainly on teaching technical skills – and PCC is not systematically taught. 

Academic alliance

This was one of the major topics when the Person-Centered Hearing Network convened in August 2019. At the meeting, Ida Institute university partners, including Utah State University (US), the University of Pretoria (ZA), De Montfort University (UK), the University of São Paulo (BR), the University of Southern Florida (US), Aston University (UK), the University of Queensland (AU), the University of Cape Town (ZA), and the University of Southern Denmark (DK), initiated a project to infuse audiology training with PCC through dedicated collaboration. 

The partners have since been working to develop explicit learning objectives for different areas in audiology teaching – and planning concrete ways to make PCC assessment part of the way they mark and give feedback to students. 

PCC needs to be taught

Karen Muñoz, who is the Department Head and a Professor of Audiology at Utah State University, explains why her team is committed to the project, “PCC does not just happen – like any other skill, it needs to be taught and developed. Most clinicians and instructors did not receive formal education in PCC. By joining forces across regions and faculties, we can provide support for others working on program development to integrate PCC.”

Talita le Roux, Senior Lecturer in Audiology at the University of Pretoria says, “Collaborating with and learning from other programs across regions is truly inspiring and it reminds us all about the bigger picture of PCC. It creates a sense of teamwork and partnership – we are in this together, working towards a unified ambition.”

Change happens gradually

While the interest in PCC is strong in academia – and continually growing – reservations are not uncommon. Clinical educators have varying levels of understanding of PCC and professionals who are not focused on the counseling side of the hearing journey may not believe that it applies to them. To ensure full commitment from the entire team, it is vital to address any hesitancies and concerns head on. “It is important to keep in mind that change happens gradually. At the same time, it takes someone to keep it moving forward. It is easy to stay with what is comfortable, change can be disruptive,” says Karen.

Talita states, “Despite the general consensus that PCC is foundational to the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology, a number of valid challenges exist – and these should be explored. By listening to and learning from our colleagues, we can come up with potential solutions and support each other in the process towards integrating PCC in all educational and clinical contexts.”

Behavior change

Adjusting curricula is more than simply adjusting the content of a course; it requires behavior changes in the practice, and consistent communication about PCC among instructors when they are working with students in the clinic. Karen states, “As a field, audiology is technically focused – and modifying our approach to embrace a shared process requires audiologists to be responsive to patient emotions, concerns, and priorities, which often are not technical in nature.” 

Talita says, “As academics involved in student training, we often assume that we are person-centered by default, since our professions are aimed at caring for people. However, the more we learn about PCC, we realize that there is much more to be done in terms of infusing PCC into all our teaching and clinical training efforts. But if PCC is prioritized and driven by the department management team, uptake and integration will be almost instinctive for staff members and students.”

Concrete steps

At Utah State University, audiology faculty members have been working together to identify concrete steps to infuse their program with PCC. They have pinpointed the courses that should explicitly address PCC and developed a dedicated learning guide. They have verbalized specific attitudes, knowledge, and skills to teach and mentor in the clinic – and modified their clinic intake forms to include open-ended questions in support of PCC. Additionally, the team has developed a rubric for rating student development and facilitating performance feedback discussions. 

At the University of Pretoria, three PCC related workshops were arranged in February 2020; one focusing on clinical supervisors, another dedicated to departmental staff members, and finally a workshop for all pre-graduate students to orientate and motivate them on PCC. 

Hopes for the future    

As a next step, when the university partners have completed their learning objectives and rubrics, Ida Institute will synthesize the information and build dedicated material to assist others in designing PCC into their curricula. 
Five years from now, Karen and Talita are hoping that it will be second nature to teach PCC - that students are graduating with a PCC mindset and comfortably embracing it in their practice. This will create positive teaching and clinical experiences for patients, families, clinicians, educators, and students alike.

Our partners at the University of South Florida (US) and Rush University (UK) have collaborated on two other projects that emerged from the Person-Centered Hearing Network workshop.