Seven Dirty Words: Hot-Button Language That Undermines Interprofessional Education and Practice

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An increasingly common goal of health professions education is preparing learners to collaborate with the full range of members on a health care team. While curriculum developers have identified many logistical and conceptual barriers to interprofessional education, one overlooked factor threatens to undermine interprofessional education and practice: language. Language reveals the mental metaphors governing thoughts and actions. The words that faculty members and health care providers use send messages that can—consciously or not—undermine explicit lessons about valuing each member of the care team. Too often, word choices make visible hierarchies in health care that may contradict overt messages about collaboration.

In this Perspective, the author draws on his experience as an outsider coming to academic medicine, noticing that certain words triggered negative responses in colleagues from different professions. He reflects on some of the most charged (or hot-button) words commonly heard in health care and educational settings and suggests possible alternatives that have similar denotations but that also have more collaborative connotations. By exploring seven of these dirty words, the author intends to raise awareness about the unintended effects of word choices. Changing exclusionary language may help promote the adoption of new metaphors for professional relationships that will more easily facilitate interprofessional collaboration and reinforce the formal messages about collaborative practice aimed at learners.

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