A Focus on the Health Care System: Quality Improvement and Patient Safety

uvmmedicine blogger Kathryn Patton '20
uvmmedicine blogger Kathryn Patton ’20

As medical students, we are focused on the human body – how to improve health and well-being, and cure illness. In the world of quality improvement and patient safety (QI and PS), we are focused on the healthcare system as a whole. How can we make it better for our patients? Here at the Larner College of Medicine, I help to lead a group focused on introducing medical students to these important areas in healthcare, in the hopes that they develop the same passion for QI and PS that I have.

My relationship with quality improvement and patient safety began in 2013, the summer after my sophomore year in college at Clemson University. That summer, I enrolled in an introductory course to public health and the U.S. healthcare system as part of a Certificate in Public Health program offered by the university. As part of this class, I was required to complete several introductory modules through the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School (IHI OS) covering topics such as patient safety, quality improvement, effective teamwork, and, to a bit of a lesser extent, the health care system as a whole. I was already interested in pursuing a career in medicine at this point but had yet to be exposed to the public health side of healthcare. It was this class, as well as the remaining ones required for the certificate, that drove me to pursue a Masters of Public Health prior to matriculating to medical school.

In late summer 2015, I started classes at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI) and my interest with QI & PS deepened. TDI begins the MPH program with a class dedicated to introducing the concepts of quality improvement, and the program continues with regular integration of QI principles. Since the MPH program at TDI was housed within Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, a classmate and I were invited to help lead the recently reestablished IHI OS chapter at the medical school with several second-year medical students. Together, the leadership team planned events to help bridge the gap between what we saw as two fundamentally connected but seemingly disjointed programs: medicine and public health. We started the year off with an informal “Introduction to Quality Improvement” panel discussion with professors, clinicians, medical students and MPH students. This panel was mainly geared toward the medical students since they hadn’t had any previous exposure to QI. It has served as inspiration for the work I have been involved in since coming to UVM. As the year continued, the IHI OS chapter at Dartmouth worked to put both MPH and medical students in contact with local organizations in need of help implementing their own QI projects. We strived to build up the chapter as much as we could by fostering student interest and involvement in QI and PS; when we began to transition out of our leadership roles we were happy to see our own improvement project of strengthening the chapter had paid off, and knew we were leaving it in good hands.

Upon matriculating to UVM, I hoped to continue my involvement in IHI OS. At orientation, I learned about the aptly named Students for Quality Improvement & Patient Safety (SQIPS) Student Interest Group, which serves as the IHI OS chapter for the Larner College of Medicine. I attended the Patient Safety Panel the previous leaders organized this past fall and was happy to find their passion for QI and PS paralleled mine. In a program where we learn so much about the human body, what can go wrong in it, and how to fix it, it was refreshing to find others who were just as curious about analogous aspects of the health care system: what can go wrong and how can we fix it.

When it came time for leadership to turnover to the current first years, it felt natural that I apply to be a leader of SQIPS. Along with my co-leader, Jennifer Boccia, our faculty advisor, Dr. Keith Robinson, and help from various faculty and staff, we hope to improve visibility and understanding of QI and  PS among our peers. Just like what I observed at TDI, I’ve found that we don’t get enough exposure to QI and PS as first-year students. SQIPS aims to provide students with supplemental exposure and, as mentioned above, bridge the gap between medicine and public health. We have continued working with the Jeffords Institute to promote the Performance Improvement Collaborative; the PIC was started by Sam Magier (C/O 2019 & the founder of SQIPS) with the hope of providing medical students with opportunities to become involved in a quality improvement project within the University of Vermont Health Network. In the fall, we plan to hold a patient safety simulation through the UVM Clinical Simulation Lab, where students can experience first-hand how we can work to improve patient care. We also plan to continue the Patient Safety Panel to discuss how patient safety is handled at an organization level. With the continued help and support of the faculty and staff here at UVM, both Jennifer and I are excited to continue the work  previous leaders have done to enhance QI and PS education at UVM.

If you have questions or would like to apply to the UVM PIC, please email UVM.PIC@gmail.com. If you have questions about the IHI OS, SQIPS, and/or would like to become involved, please email one of our leaders: Jennifer Boccia (Jennifer.boccia@uvm.med.edu) or Kathryn Patton (kathryn.a.patton@med.uvm.edu).

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