Role theory and the practice of interprofessional education: A critical appraisal and a call to sociologists

Barret Michalec, Frederic W. Hafferty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The stated goals - and therefore manifest functions - of Interprofessional Education (IPE) are to bring students of various health professions together to cultivate mutual understanding and respect for each occupation's role(s) and foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork to promote more effective and efficient care. Yet, there are telling gaps within IPE literature regarding the application of role theory to IPE pedagogy and research. In this work, we apply a sociological lens and the tenets of role theory to identify and analyze: (a) the apparent tensions nested within IPE aims with respect to issues of role specificity and role blurring; (b) the lack of attention paid to possible role adjustment strategies utilized by IPE students; (c) ambiguities within the IPE (and IPC) literature regarding the role(s) of the patient, including a failure to adequately acknowledge the status hierarchy of health-care delivery; and (d) how IPE may serve as a catalyst to reframe understandings of the physicians as 'team leader'. In addressing these issues, we suggest discipline-specific qualities that sociologists bring to IPE research, and future directions and applications for sociologists interested in exploring elements of IPE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-201
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Theory and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 25 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • health occupations education
  • interprofessional education
  • role concepts
  • role theory
  • structuralist perspective

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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