Aug 8, 2009

The Journey Ahead...

This time last year, I had just stepped off a plane returning to the US from Taiwan. And without an extra second to breathe, I moved straight to Boston to start working at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). In the same whirlwind fashion that I started at IHI, it is now time for me to embark on my next journey: medical school.

Leaving is never easy. As I scroll through my iTunes library for musical inspiration, songs like NSYNC's "Tearin' Up My Heart", Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind", and The Sound of Music's "So Long, Farewell" pop out to describe how I feel. But, since I've never been a big fan of good-bye's, instead, I think the song "I've Had The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes popularized by the movie Dirty Dancing best encapsulates how I feel about my amazing year at IHI. So, Youtube the song and listen as you read! (Apologies to those who don't appreciate my cheesy-ness!)

Now I've had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes I swear it's the truth
and I owe it all to you

Taking a leap of faith, I deferred from med school to work at IHI without fully understanding what IHI did on a daily basis, its role in the quality movement, or its impact on the world of health care. Fortunately, after a year, I now know the answers to those questions.

IHI's work aims to improve health care by applying operations management skills and tools to improve the efficiency, reliability, and effectiveness of health care delivery--viewing health care as a system. At the heart of all of this work is a strong commitment to make health care more patient-centered-- promoting patient safety and allowing the needs of the patient to drive the redesign of how health care professionals deliver care and how patients interact with the health care system. Most importantly, IHI aims to spread these changes and ideas to all. These activities include bundles to reduce hospital infections, lean and waste reduction skills, measuring and evaluating progress and improvement, learning how to work in teams across disciplines, and so much more. The content of IHI's work is truly impactful and fascinating, but is just one component of my amazing year.

Far more inspiring is the culture that IHI promotes locally within the office that not just propels us in our work, but also motivates all those in health care to continuously improve. IHI is an organization that "practices what it preaches". The culture in the IHI offices allows each individual to maximize his/her potential and relish in the energy and dynamism that teamwork provides. No one worries alone and like family, there is always at least one IHIer there to help when you need it. We work hard and we celebrate our successes. Best of all, every single person in the office is passionate about health care and their work. The enthusiasm is palpable and definitely flows freely around the boundariless office. If you ever need to feel inspired, take a walk around the office and you will be shocked with all that can be accomplished is a short amount of time. Remember that Surgical Safety Checklist Sprint? We asked hospitals to test the checklist in just 90 days! (Click here to see the map). I learned so much in my one year at IHI and feel so much pride to be a part of the IHI family. I didn't know what to expect when I started, and was given the world. Thank you to everyone at IHI for making my year memorable and life-changing!

My last few weeks at IHI were tough. All I could think about was inserting myself back into the broken health care system and how I could continue to cultivate those IHI values and skills while working hard to become a doctor. Would it be impossible for me to find opportunities to work with other health professions students? Would people find my IHI advocacy annoying? How will I find students interested in quality improvement? Do I even remember how to study? Was this going to be a really painful journey? While it has been extremely comforting to hear that the IHI doors will always be open for me, I knew I had jump out of the nest and test out my new wings.

Even though the incorporation of quality improvement and patient safety into health professions curricula has been slow moving, I have been very pleasantly surprised several times during my orientation week at the University of Michigan med school. My White Coat Ceremony did not emphasize the prestige of the medical profession, but rather the sacred gift we will now have to be a part of the lives of our patients. The Dean's address was focused on teamwork being integral to practicing medicine in the 21st century. We all spent time in the forests engaging in team building physical exercises that tested our ability to communicate effectively, pay attention to detail, and place our trust in each other. We've also already had two patient presentations where care that transcended across specialties and physical buildings was quintessential to positive patient experiences.

While I do already have hundreds of pages of reading, assignments to complete, and a quiz next week, I think I'm going to like it here. The University of Michigan also has an IHI Open School Chapter. So, I guess IHI will never be too far away. The journey ahead, I'm sure, will be...amazing.

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