Original Publication
Open Access

A Common Language for Interprofessional Education: The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)

Published: January 28, 2013 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9321

Included in this publication:

  • ICF Instructors Guide Final.docx
  • Faculty Development Case Peter.doc
  • Faculty Development ICF Grid and Goals Sheet.docx
  • Faculty Development ICF Workshop.ppt
  • Faculty Development Problem List.doc
  • Faculty Development Video Case Peter.mp4
  • Integrating the ICF in to the Health Mentors Program.doc
  • Student Introduction to ICF Lecture.ppt
  • Student Pre-Reading.doc
  • Student Small Group Activity Facilitator Guide with Answers.doc
  • Student Small Group Activity Handout.doc

To view all publication components, extract (i.e., unzip) them from the downloaded .zip file.

Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


Introduction: The World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) was adopted in 2001 as a common language among health professionals to measure health and disability. The ICF allows health and wellness to be viewed on a continuum and mainstreams disability as an integral part of the human experience. The ICF shifts the focus of patient encounters from the biomedical model to the biopsychosocial model, enabling health care providers to gain a better understanding of the person. The ICF also provides an ideal language for interprofessional education (IPE) by permitting students from multiple backgrounds to communicate more effectively using a common set of terms and allowing them to appreciate how collaboration with others optimizes patient care. Methods: The ICF curricular resources included here serve as training modules for both faculty and students and can be used in any simulated or case-based IPE activity. These resources include a faculty development workshop, student reading material, a PowerPoint lecture to be presented to students and its accompanying lecture guide, case-based exercises for students, and examples of the application of the ICF in an existing IPE curriculum. Results: At our institution, this resource was integrated into our health mentors program. Students were surveyed at the end of each of the 2 years of the program. The overall 2012 response rate for first-year students was 74%; for second-year students, it was 67%. They rated the following statement on a 5-point Likert scale: “Applying the ICF framework to my health mentor’s condition(s) and/or impairment(s) helped me to better understand the impact of these conditions on his/her quality of life.” The percentage of students who chose strongly agree, agree, or neutral was 84% or greater for all first-year profession cohorts and 78% or greater for all second-year profession cohorts. Student participants came from medicine, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and couple and family therapy. Formal, qualitative analysis of 91 reflection papers by the 2011-2012 first-year students showed four common themes: “realization that some aspect of the health mentor’s life is different than initially expected,” “student identification that a positive attitude allows their health mentor to function despite disease,” “student identification of the health mentor as a source of inspiration,” and “realization that the health mentor’s health condition does not define their capabilities.” Discussion: Anecdotally, through faculty grading of both team and individual assignments, interprofessional teams of students participating in this curriculum have demonstrated a clearer understanding of the ICF; students have been able to identify elements of the ICF in the context of the health mentor’s life, use the ICF to understand barriers and facilitators to wellness, and apply the worldview of the ICF to the health mentor’s home environment, as well as being able to apply what they have learned about their health mentor to assist in the creation of patient-centered health and wellness goals to maintain and promote change.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this session, learners will be able to:

  1. Define key International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) concepts, including health conditions, impairments, activity, and participation.
  2. Apply the structure, language, and concepts of the ICF in describing how people’s health conditions and impairments interact with their personal and environmental factors.
  3. Incorporate ICF concepts into team-based interviews and assignments as part of the longitudinal interprofessional education curriculum.

Author Information

  • Nethra Sridhara Ankam, MD: Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
  • Marcia Levinson: Thomas Jefferson University/Jefferson School of Health Professions - Department of Physical Therapy
  • Christine Jerpbak: Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
  • Lauren Collins, MD: Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
  • Elena Umland: Thomas Jefferson University - Jefferson School of Pharmacy
  • Stephen B. Kern, PhD: Thomas Jefferson University, School of Health Professions - Occupational Therapy
  • Susan Egger: Thomas Jefferson University - Jefferson School of Nursing
  • Katherine Lucatorto: Thomas Jefferson University - Jefferson School of Nursing
  • Kenneth Covelman: Thomas Jefferson University - Couples and Family Therapy
  • Sokha Koeuth: Thomas Jefferson University - Jefferson InterProfessional Education Center

None to report.

This research was funded in part by the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation in fulfillment of the AAMC/IPEC interprofessional education initiative.

Prior Presentations
Ankam NS, Levinson M, Melvin JL. Teaching Medical Students the ICF: An Interprofessional Education Partnership [Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting scientific paper presentation]. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;90(4):a13.

Levinson M, Ankam N. The Role of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) in Interprofessional Education: The Jefferson Experience. Discussion section at: Collaborating Across Borders, III-3rd Biennial International Conference; November 2011; Tucson, AZ. 

Levinson M, Ankam, N, Jerpbak C. Introducing a Common Language in Interprofessional Education: The World Health Organization's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF): What, Why, and How. Workshop presented at: Jefferson InterProfessional Education Center 2012 Conference: Interprofessional Care for the 21st Century: Redefining Education and Practice; May 2012; Philadelphia, PA.


  1. World Health Organization. International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health: ICF. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2001. Training materials are available at http://www.who.int/classifications/icf/icfapptraining/en/index.html. 
  2. Steiner WA, Ryser L, Huber E, Uebelhart D, Aeschlimann A, Stucki G. Use of the ICF model as a clinical problem-solving tool in physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine. Phys Ther. 2002 Nov;82(11):1098-107. 
  3. Allan CM, Campbell WN, Guptill CA, Stephenson FF, Campbell KE. A conceptual model for interprofessional education: the international classification of functioning, disability and health (ICF). J Interprof Care. 2006 Jun;20(3):235-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13561820600718139
  4. Kearney PM, Pryor J. The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) and nursing. J Adv Nurs. 2004 Apr;46(2):162-70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2003.02976.x
  5. Huber M. How should we define health? BMJ 2011;343:d4163. 
  6. Unpublished data from qualitative analysis of Health Mentors reflection papers: Panichelli A, Brown K, Krizman S, Ankam N, Jerpbak C, Collins L, Speakman E, Umlaud E, and Arenson C. 


Ankam N, Levinson M, Jerpbak C, et al. A common language for interprofessional education: the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). MedEdPORTAL. 2013;9:9321. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9321