Aug 5, 2011

Chapter Corner: The Importance of Sharing Knowledge

By itself, content is limiting. While the information from a book is useful, there is no incentive or opportunity to offer an opinion and receive a response. It is simply a one-way flow of information. It's the people we meet and speak to that hold the real knowledge. As social creatures, others' work and life experiences will resonate more with us when we ask questions and have the opportunity to respond directly, whether it is in person or through email. I know all of these things because I learned them firsthand.

I asked a colleague of mine if they knew anyone working with process improvement in healthcare, and they put me in contact with two professors at Emory University's School of Medicine. From these connections, I was put in touch with a director at a nearby hospital's center for clinical performance improvement, as well as the Chief Quality Officers at two other hospitals. I've learned a tremendous amount from my conversations with them.

My conversations with these people were the true driving force that sparked my interest in quality improvement in healthcare, and I try to drop a line to say "hi" every few weeks or months. I'm even working with the director at the clinical performance improvement center to establish a quality improvement project for the Atlanta IHI Open School students. It's experiences like these where I find value in establishing new relationships, especially with those so willing to give back to students.

Here are some other ideas on sharing knowledge:

  • Take advantage of others' knowledge by talking to fellow students, teachers, leaders - anyone you can make time for (and can make time for you).
  • Search on LinkedIn for professionals in the area who are involved in healthcare improvement (after all, wasn't LinkedIn made for networking?).
  • Email leaders from other schools in your region, or across the country. See what others are doing and network to share ideas.
  • Read the "Chapter Accomplishments" on the IHI Open School website and find ideas that interest you and your group.
  • Contact schools to learn more about their methodologies and challenges to accomplishing their goals. (It's been my group's experience that IHI Open School chapter leaders are extremely receptive to sharing ideas.)
  • Talk to others to share knowledge and to generate opportunities. People generally love to talk about themselves, and would be more than happy to meet or speak about their experiences (probably more willing to do so than you might think).
  • Talk to professors and coworkers, and ask them about what they do and how they got there. Ask if they know others in quality or process improvement, and see if you could set up a time to chat with them for 15 minutes. This could lead to new partnerships with your chapter, quality improvement projects, mentorships, additional IHI Open School exposure, among other advantages. Once you've developed those relationships, maintain them by following up throughout the year.

I reached out to one of my public health professors to ask about her work in quality improvement and told her about my involvement with the IHI Open School. After some meetings and phone calls, we eventually established two quality and process improvement team projects for IHI students to be involved in, and we hope to find the right students to make these initiatives a success! It's my hope that I'll be able to give back the same way that these professionals did for me.

I've found it invaluable to have these discussions with others, and I encourage other chapters to do the same. It sounds simple, but it can be tough work to find and maintain these relationships. We will always have something new to learn from each other.

- Becky Ng, Public Health student, Emory University

Aug 2, 2011

Another Health Care Workshop? Five Reasons Why SQLA is Worth Experiencing

It's been almost six weeks since I left the IHI Open School Student Quality Leadership Academy (SQLA). Admittedly, I volunteered to put together a blog post weeks ago, but my hectic schedule as an outgoing student (classes, work, research projects, job interviews, networking, and summer visitors) kept stealing my attention.

As an emerging health professional, I have availed myself of numerous free networking events and educational seminars (and food). Eventually, after attending so many that fixated on the need for change in health care, I became jaded about how much these events actually contribute to inspiring innovation. But when I heard of SQLA, knowing IHI's great reputation for visionary leadership in health care improvement, I couldn't shake the feeling that this program was going to be different from the rest. Since attending, I have felt inspired to share my experiences with prospective attendees and, in the process, encourage you to apply for next year's Academy.

Upon reflecting on the lectures and activities from the SQLA weekend, there are five reasons why I would recommend taking part in SQLA to all students in any field of health care (I personally am a clinical social worker and MPH candidate in Health Policy & Management):

1. Exposure to Diverse Perspectives: At our table alone, we had two international students, a nursing undergraduate, a physician, several advanced med students, a Masters-level nurse, and a public health social worker (yours truly), representing great diversity in geography, race/ethnicity, age, and education. Each member contributed thoughtful examples and insight from his or her actual experiences, covering an even broader spectrum of sub-specializations (mine is behavioral health). This rich confluence of experiences was very enlightening, introducing me to the perspectives of professionals in other health care areas with whom I have literally never interacted, and may not have for much longer if not for SQLA. For too long there has been an unfortunate dearth of cross-disciplinary collaboration among our segregated health schools, and SQLA breaks down these barriers.

2. Unbeatable Expertise: All of the weekend's presenters were seasoned veterans of health care leadership and innovation. Each one holds or has held very senior positions in national policy advising and/or academic medical centers. This year's presenters were predominantly current or past leaders from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston - one of the most respected, innovative health care organizations in New England. The only one without at least 20 years of professional health care experience was Dr. John Halamka, who is merely the youngest chief officer in the history of BIDC, had served as a key health information technology (HIT) advisor to the Obama Administration, and was recently contracted by Japan to assist development of a new HIT system across their Northern region following this year's devastating earthquake and tsunami. To say his knowledge and perspective are expansive is a serious understatement, and each presenter was of equally strong caliber.

3. Gaining Essential Management Skills: Take a walk in the woods to build rapport with your opponents and identify shared values. Use interest-based negotiation methods to manage and overcome conflicts. Implement "double-loop learning" to learn from and prevent future conflict situations. Carefully choose when to identify people instead of numbers when quantifying problems. Learn how leadership vision and operations management can foster an environment that minimizes conflict. The "Transition Curve" framework offers a method for managers to conceptualize and facilitate change processes with minimal staff resistance. Before embarking on a difficult conversation, ask those involved about their understanding of a situation, and let this guide your approach and language. These are just several of many examples to evidence that SQLA actually covers concrete management techniques that any of us can apply to improve our team's performance, morale, and ability to adopt innovations.

4. Assessing Personal Strengths and Needs: Through exposure to new management concepts, personal anecdotes from presenters, and group and individual exercises, the weekend at the Leadership Academy gave me the time and tools I needed to identify where I may struggle and succeed as a new manager in the health care industry. This self-understanding will be handy for upcoming job interviews, and also in identifying positions where I'm most likely to succeed.

5. Having Fun! Of course, after days full of challenging sessions, self-evaluation, and passionate presentations on health innovation, we were able to unwind. Harvard Square (and the rest of nearby downtown Boston!) offers a plentiful assortment of interesting activities and quality spots to pass the time with good people and entertainment. This year featured a public dance party in front of Cambridge City Hall, which closed down the largest roadway through town and featured thousands of locals partaking in a good old fashioned outdoor celebration. After three years in the same social and professional circles, networking, story-swapping, and joke-telling with 100 new, equally passionate students was rejuvenating. The city offers an eventful, lively locale for this gathering, which is pivotal because our work, no matter how valuable or urgent, cannot become our entire life. So once the lessons have been learned, there is much-deserved time to get out and play! So come early, stay late, and enjoy the marvelous landscape, history, culture and nightlife of Boston. Good things should come to those who wait (and bravely work on the daunting challenge of health care improvement)!

- Sandy Cohen, MSW, Boston University School of Public Health