A group of McMaster University students has been shortlisted for a national prize.

The Health Council of Canada's Health Innovation Challenge asks students to find and study an example of an innovative program in health care. The McMaster team is among five that have made it to the shortlist round of the competition, with the winner to be announced April 2.

The winners of the competition will receive a cash prize and an opportunity for a summer internship at the health council, as well as have their entry published through the council.

Aaron Lau, Alexandre Tran and Yvonne Tse took a look at McMaster's Program for Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (PIPER), a program which aims to connect health science students across fields to learn how to work together.

"Through our own experience going through medical school, we realized how important interprofessional relationships are," said Lau, a third-year medical school student.

"The practice we highlighted is having an impact on students before we go into the real world," said Tse, a third-year nursing student.

"We as professionals are each others' resources."

Part of the challenge for this year's competition was to take a look at how the program could be applied to other health care centres across the country, something all three thought would benefit the health care system.

"A lot of emphasis is placed on technical and clinical skills across the country and North America," Tran, also a third-year medical student, explained.

"But what's often missing is those interprofessional and communication skills and Mac addresses these (through PIPER)."

The competition, which is in its fourth year, aims to get medical students seeking out innovation before they leave school so that it becomes a habit as they continue throughout their careers, according to John Abbott, CEO of the Health Council of Canada.

"It's easy to get caught up in your own workplace and maybe others you work with are telling you 'the way we are doing things is the best way," Abbott said.

"But this will force them at this point in their careers to ask questions and think critically about it."

Hamilton is also represented in the competition through a team entry from Grand Prairie Regional College in Alberta. Farell Archibald, Nahanni Hasselfield and Crystal Goosney chose to focus their entry on the Hamilton-Wentworth HSO Mental Health Program. The program integrates mental health programs with general practitioners to more easily transition patients and help them receive care more quickly.

"We wanted to focus on mental health and it really jumped out at us as the best idea and one that could be useful in Alberta, too," Archibald, 29, said.

He added the program has been very effective: the number of referrals made from doctors to mental health care specialists has increased 11-fold since 1999.

"The biggest thing about this program is that with increasing access of mental health services, it serves as another step towards decreasing the stigma towards mental illness."