She may not be a dentist, but Dr. Ellen Patterson already feels right at home.
“My arrival at Tufts was serendipitous. I’m not sure Tufts was looking for me, or me for Tufts, but I think it’s working out to be a good fit, personally and professionally.”
Dr. Ellen Patterson began her appointment as the new Director of Interprofessional Education (IPE) on September 9. As a former mental health practitioner and health communications specialist, Dr. Patterson said she believes her expertise and knowledge of the inter-connected nature of health care will assist her in the new position.
“Throughout my practicing life, I saw that collaboration between healthcare providers is extremely important,” she said. “I think this might have been recognized earlier in mental health than in other specialties, so the idea of providing clinical care as part of a multi-disciplinary team is familiar and significant to me.”
The position is a new one for TUSDM, reflecting the school’s ongoing commitment to develop IPE programs and give direction and coordination to those already in place. Though IPE will bring significant changes to TUSDM culture, Dr. Patterson says that she’s been greeted warmly by faculty and staff who are excited about the opportunities IPE can bring.
“The welcome I’ve received has been terrifically warm,” she said. “The enthusiasm for IPE is very clear. It’s obvious that this is important to the Dean, and to the faculty. I came in at an exciting time.”
Dr. Patterson’s position includes a large administrative role, coordinating existing IPE-related programs and developing new ones. She will be making contributions to the curriculum, and will coordinate partnerships with other Tufts schools and other universities. More broadly, her role will foster an emphasis on communication skills with both patients and other health care providers. The new Director also hopes to include TUSDM’s focus on public health and community service in her work. As an example, she mentioned the L.O.T.U.S. program, which aids underserved residents living in the Castle Square apartment complex in Chinatown, as a great start for merging IPE and community outreach.
“I’m very excited about the possibilities of this program,” she said. “It’s a match made in heaven to facilitate IPE across multiple professional training programs at Tufts University. There are still huge disparities in terms of access to health care. Future healthcare providers will have to work together to eliminate those disparities, and find a way to do so efficiently and effectively.”
Dr. Patterson has been at Tufts for about two weeks, but she’s not wasting any time. Right now, she said she’s focused on getting to know the faculty and understanding their needs, as well as educating and encouraging involvement in the IPE initiative. She also wants to take a look at incorporating IPE into the curriculum, developing a plan for fostering partnerships with other organizations, and educating herself on the literature and trends in dental education relevant to IPE.
“Everyone knows that IPE is needed, but there’s no clear path forward, or evaluation metrics set up yet,” she said. “These are some of the big challenges we’ll be facing. But it’s also an opportunity to explore creative ways to engage students and teach the competencies that they’ll need to practice interprofessionally.”
Originally from New Jersey, Dr. Patterson has spent all of her professional life in New England and considers Boston her second home. She received an M.D. from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1988 and an M.A. in Health Communication from Emerson College, in collaboration with Tufts University School of Medicine, in 2011. Before coming to TUSDM she was a Health Communications Specialist for Inflexxion, Inc. in Newton, and worked as a psychiatrist in a variety of clinical environments in Maine. She lives in Brookline with her partner Jim and daughter Victoria.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate being given this opportunity,” she said. “I wasn’t quite sure how an M.D. and a former psychiatrist would find a place at a dental school, but it’s such a friendly, collegial atmosphere. They made it very easy.”