Sep 3, 2008

No more pencils no more books…

I took 22 credits one term, survived four terms of Biostatistics, and thought I was learning the essentials of public health. So I was a little dismayed when I started my first job in a large health care organization and realized how much I still didn't know.

On day one, we enter the health care environment and are thrown into an ocean of providers from every discipline. People from different professions often think in really different ways – and that leads to awful misunderstandings and mix-ups in clinical settings.

So what can we do about it? The IHI Open School can help you form good habits early and show you how to work with people from other disciplines – before you get thrown together caring for patients in a hospital.

I wish the IHI Open School had existed four years ago, when I was an undergrad studying health policy and administration. During our orientation, they required we take the "colors" personality test. Like Myers-Briggs, the colors test identifies your personality type (creative thinker, Type A, etc).

Out of the 25 health policy and administration students, would you like to guess how many of us were categorized as "Gold" (type A)? I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 13. We wear suits. We keep the lights on in the hospital. We are responsible for the "bottom line." When it came to group projects, inevitably, two people had rough drafts on color-coded excel spreadsheets before the first meeting even began.

Then it was on to grad school for public health. To date, I've never met so many positive Pollyannas in my life (cue the song “Heal the World”). It was an awesome, motivational point in life, but perhaps not an accurate portrayal of the care environment.

Think about how different this is from your typical med student. Motivated? Yes. Organized? Probably, but I'm under the impression their thought process is different. From day one, medical/nursing/pharm students are inundated with data. Calculating drips and converting kilos to lbs is second nature to them. I, on the other hand, want a pen and paper to write it out, step by step.

All of us in health care may share a common goal, but we think differently – and the time to find that out isn’t at the patient’s bedside. We must learn how to work together as a multidisciplinary team, communicating effectively. It's not that nurses dislike physicians or physicians dislike pharmacists; we just don't always speak the same language.

The IHI Open School will help us overcome this obstacle. We'll bring students of all disciplines together. If your care team can't communicate effectively, you’re doing a disservice to the years of training you’ve put in.