Collaborating for a More Sustainable Healthcare Workforce: Reflections and Lessons Learned

Background: What is the Morris Challenge?

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In Fall of 2022, our Interprofessional Internship team began collaborating with the Morris Challenge to develop healthcare sustainability initiatives in West Central Minnesota and through greater Minnesota. The Morris Challenge  is a University of Minnesota Morris project which connects high school students and teachers in West Central Minnesota and encourages them to seize the opportunities of a sustainable future by raising their awareness of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and showing them the sustainability work that has led to UMN Morris producing more clean energy per student than any other university in the United States. 

UMN Morris defines sustainability with a simple question - “Does doing things this way position our community to be stronger tomorrow than we are today?”  If the answer is ‘yes,’ it’s sustainable. If the answer is ‘no,’ it’s not sustainable. With more than 40,000 healthcare job openings in the state of Minnesota, and Greater Minnesota experiencing the pain of this human resource challenge more acutely than urban areas, the current rural healthcare reality is not sustainable. Because of this, identifying ways to increase the number of young people considering careers in the healthcare workforce has been an important piece of Morris Challenge director Doug Reed’s efforts since launching the initiative in 2022.

These issues are complex; they are tangled within economic, political, and social contexts–widespread, yet locally specific. Both members of our internship team are based in the Twin Cities, which is nearly three hours from Morris, and in the beginning, we were uncertain about how we could carry out meaningful work. 

Implications for Interprofessional Collaboration

Ultimately, our path forward in this project was found in partnerships. Reed quickly helped us to connect with educators and healthcare providers in Stevens county. This was a starting point for us to engage students and educators, to develop connections, and to begin to understand existing efforts aimed at fostering and encouraging student interest in health careers.  

Through developing these connections, we encountered many people who are concerned about the future workforce and who want to connect with youth interested in healthcare –  but who are lacking the capacity to do so. In collaboration with these partners, we have spent the past year and a half developing and implementing The Health Circuit, a podcast project aimed at connecting high school students with current healthcare workers  who want to offer guidance, mentorship, and stories to prospective future healthcare professionals. 

This work has highlighted the importance, value, and challenge of collaboration. Here are some of the lessons we have learned through this project: 

  • Connect and Listen 
    We would not have been able to do anything on this project without collaboration. Reaching out to educators and healthcare providers in West Central Minnesota and hearing their perspectives, ideas, and priorities was essential in determining the direction our work should go
  • Remember Positionality
    Positionality refers to the complex ways in which our identities impact how we understand and engage with our environment. Going into this project, we both had some experience and background with rural areas, but neither of us had much familiarity with West Central Minnesota – and both of us were (and still are) living in the largest metro area in the state. It was important for us to remain aware of our positionality as graduate students living and working outside of the region and to maintain humility about our own knowledge.
  • Community partners should shape work
    With our own positionality in mind, it was very important to get input from students and people who work with students as we began considering what an early intervention workforce development resource might look like. Through our partners, we learned about high school students who are interested in engaging with and creating podcasts. It was immensely helpful to get insight about how youth are engaging with virtual resources. Later on, another partner shared information with us about topics within healthcare they want to learn more about. This feedback influenced who we recruited as mentors for each podcast episode.
  • Process matters
    Collaborative work can move slowly.  Both within our team and while working with partners, sometimes taking the time to discuss, share input, and make collaborative decisions was not very efficient. We learned that the extra time was worthwhile and that this process of developing relationships and creating something together was – at times – more important than the final product.

Ultimately, collaboration can be complex – it takes time, care, and a mutual desire to work together – and throughout our experience as Interprofessional Interns with the Morris Project, it has been essential. As we both finish our time on this project, we will take all we have learned with us into our careers as medical and public health professionals. 

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