Sep 12, 2011

Chapter Corner: Three Questions to Consider When Planning Quality Improvement Projects

Quality improvement projects benefit both students and organizations in a number of ways. Students have the opportunity to network and develop their improvement skills. Organizations, meanwhile, have the opportunity to meet enthusiastic students dedicated to improving healthcare, develop fresh ideas with student contributions, and guide and mentor the next generation of health professionals.

We just had our fall information session last week, and students have begun sending in their project applications. This is the first year the Atlanta chapter of the IHI Open School has embarked on establishing quality improvement opportunities for students.

Our goal is for students to gain real-world experience by participating in improvement projects, whether it is a snapshot or the various phases of a project. In addition to skills in quality improvement, some of these projects will also allow students to develop skills in patient safety, teamwork, leadership and patient-centered care.

Finding projects
Our group focused heavily on recruitment to gauge student project interest while simultaneously searching for project opportunities at various organizations. We wanted to ensure that there would be enough student interest to participate, but also wanted to ensure that project opportunities existed for student volunteers. I used contacts from informational interviews, previous internships, and professors to ask if their organizations might be interested in having students volunteer their time to quality improvement projects. If these contacts expressed interest, we then discussed the potential projects over a phone call.

Here are a few of the questions we kept in mind during the project planning process:

1. How can we develop and maintain good relationships with participating organizations?
If we maintain good relationships with these organizations, we might find additional project opportunities in the future within and outside of the organization. To maintain these relationships, we plan on touching base with project supervisors every so often throughout the project. And since this is our first year, we have limited the number of IHI Open School projects so we can focus on successful completion of these few projects.

2. What if we get a smaller applicant pool than we expect?
We wanted enough student interest so that each project would be able to find a number of students from various disciplines that would be a good fit for the organization. We emailed faculty/department advisors and our student government association to forward on our IHI Open School information to students. And since medical students are difficult to recruit due to their incredibly busy schedules, we contacted dual degree MD/MPH students that are in their MPH year, where the schedule is more flexible. Our final applicant pool is still yet to be seen.

3. How can we encourage students to share experience and knowledge with other students? While we want students to develop various skills, we also want them to share their project work and knowledge with other fellow students. We hope that this will create a culture of teaching others, developing leaders, and building relationships. We'll be setting up Open School meetings for students to share what they've learned.

It will be interesting to see how these projects progress over the course of the year. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, we would love to hear them!

- Becky Ng, Public Health student, Emory University