By Lindsay DeGennaro, IHI Event Manager
Walking onto the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university campus in the United States — among the likes of Rhodes Scholars, heads of state, senators, and medical pioneers — can be a little intimidating, albeit exhilarating. Meandering through historic Healy Hall felt as though we had been transported back into time (or possibly to Hogwarts). Any daunting feeling we had, however, quickly subsided as we were warmly welcomed by volunteers from the IHI Open School Georgetown Chapter.
They had gathered for a two-hour training on how to staff and run an event, the IHI Blue Shirt way.
As a seasoned Event Manager from IHI (that’s me in the picture; I’m a little bigger in real life), I eagerly accepted the challenge to transfer all of my knowledge of planning large-scale events to the soon-to-be Blue Shirts, in a mere two hours. At IHI, we’re proud to know that the Blue Shirt title is coveted by many people from around the world who attend our National Forum or Office Practice Summit each year. Being a Blue Shirt is more than just directing with an open palm and helping people find the restrooms; it’s about embracing the values of IHI and transferring them to attendees, empowering them to take what they’ve learned and make changes in their own organizations. When attendees leave our programs thinking, “I could change the world” instead of, “I wish they had more sandwiches,” the Blue Shirts have done their jobs. So when Dan Alyeshmerni, Mark Fischer, and James Cervantes, Chapter Leaders of the IHI Open School Georgetown Chapter, told us they wanted their attendees to have a “Blue Shirt experience” for their lecture on June 5th, we knew exactly what they meant.
We knew that Dan, a repeat attendee of the IHI National Forum, had a deep appreciation for the IHI Blue Shirts. Surely, the volunteers from the Georgetown Chapter would be equally enamored? As it turned out, not many of the 15 volunteers had experienced a Blue Shirt event. If you, too, haven’t yet heard of a Blue Shirt, you may want to refer to this IHI Open School blog post.
After we showed the now famous Blue Shirt Video, we had them tapping to the beat of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” but they didn’t quite grasp the Blue Shirt concept. It wasn’t until that Tuesday at 7 AM did the prospect of squeezing more than 400 attendees into the beautiful, yet compact, Gaston Hall, make them understand what being a Blue Shirt really meant.
Donning black pants and the notorious blue polo shirts (hence the affectionate term “Blue Shirt”), the student volunteers from various disciplines at Georgetown University arrived with excitement and anticipation. They were eager to attend the Inaugural Dr. Amitai Etzioni Lecture, “Putting the Patient First: Providing Health Care That is Patient Safe and Patient Centered.” At this inaugural event, Carolyn Clancy M.D., Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Donald Berwick, M.D., M.P.P., FRCP, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and former President and CEO of IHI, inspired us with their insight and expertise in quality improvement.
As the attendees began to arrive, the Blue Shirts (all wearing their best smile) manned their stations and began to greet, direct, usher, and herd until each of the seats in the auditorium was filled. They were not only polite and assertive; they went above and beyond, making sure each attendee was having a great experience. I even saw one Blue Shirt walk a lost attendee all the way from the parking garage, up the four flights of stairs to the hall, and into their seat in the auditorium. Now, that is what it means to be a Blue Shirt!
Stephen Evans, M.D., Vice President of Medical Affairs at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, opened the lecture by offering sincere appreciation to the IHI Open School Georgetown Chapter for planning such a successful event. Dr. Evans labeled the Chapter accurately with his sentiment, “Thanks to the IHI Open School [Georgetown Chapter], who I describe as a hungry pack of wolves. You feed them meat and they go right after it.”
The IHI Open School was a reoccurring topic in both Dr. Clancy and Dr. Berwick’s keynote presentations. Dr. Clancy placed importance on the need for changing the culture of how medical professionals are educated. Dr. Berwick highlighted the IHI Open School’s wide range of online courses in the areas of quality improvement, patient safety, patient- and family-centered care, managing health care operations, and leadership. He reminded the audience that the way to put the patient first is by engaging and educating health care professionals around the world. With a membership of 93,895 students and residents, and 461 Chapters in 54 countries (and growing), the ability for the Open School to reach the masses of health care professionals is significant. Dr. Berwick also noted that “coverage is key to improvement, improvement is key to coverage.” Knowing the leverage that the IHI Open School has, Dr. Berwick challenged the School to enlist two million health care professionals by December 2014, stating that this is not only possible, but also necessary for the future of quality improvement.
After a standing ovation, the Hoya spirit shined as the tireless Blue Shirts resumed their positions, ushering and directing attendees toward the exits. As the buzzing crowd cleared the auditorium, it was obvious that the IHI Open School would be a few hundred people closer to the two million-person goal set by Dr. Berwick.
While the proud volunteers began excitedly debriefing the event (even hesitating to give back their blue polo shirts), we knew that these 15 people had not only understood the Blue Shirt concept; they had fully embraced it.