Jun 26, 2010

Student Quality Leadership Academy

After two days of an intense conference, and then a busy week, I’m finally getting a chance to reflect on all I learned at the IHI conference I attended June 17-18.

From near (I live in Brookline, MA, and hopped on a bus over) and far (Iowa, Kansas, California, and even Great Britain and Portugal), about 55 students gathered in a conference room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the first IHI Open School Student Quality Leadership Academy. What was especially interesting at first was not just where everyone was from physically but rather the areas each was studying. As a medical student, I see nurses and pharmacists only as clinical co-workers, and I rarely speak with anyone with an MBA or studying administration. Our extracurriculars at school, despite valiant attempts, are also for the most part made up only of medical students, even many IHI Open School Chapters. But here, students studying public health, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, and even engineering, were just fellow students working on health care quality and safety.

Our presenters were at the tops of their fields – leadership, communication, conflict resolution – though they occasionally seemed to forget that not everyone around them was part of the Harvard system!

The topics were focused on leadership and were not specific to quality improvement or even medicine, which was a surprise as I expected more hospital-specific tales. But the idea was one of more general leadership, and we were lead through “Leading Change” and “Managing Conflict,” skills which could be applied to any part of life. Some of the ideas were quite theoretical – what are the stages people progress through (or don’t progress through) as they experience transition during major changes. “Difficult Conversations,” where we looked at cases of mistakes in hospitals, was more clinical.

One of my favorite sessions, however, combined the two. We read a case study of a hospital struggling with high mortality in their cardiovascular surgery department. The person who was tapped to make change was an internist (one strike – not a surgeon) and a woman (another strike – all the surgeons were men). We discussed what someone in that position might do in order to make change happen.

And then, to our surprise, the facilitator told us that this woman, who we thought was a case study, was in the room! Dr. Justine Carr got up and told us how, without any staff except a shared administrative assistant, without any budget, without any actual power over the surgeons, she was able to get a fragmented group to work together and decrease mortality. It was an impressive story on its own, and hearing it from the leader herself made it even better, and the fact that the change she effected saved lives-—and continues to save lives-—motivated us to go do something.

Now all we have to do is go back to our institutions and try to do the same thing!