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How the IHI Leadership Alliance Inspired My Own Improvement Journey

By Kimberly Mitchell | Monday, July 27, 2015

“The journey of the Leadership Alliance parallels my own in many ways. We’re both veering off the safe path in pursuit of ambitious results.” IHI Project Coordinator Morgen Palfrey is soon leaving IHI to start graduate school. In the following post, she explains how her experience supporting the IHI Leadership Alliance helped inspire her own ambitions to change health and health care.


Almost exactly one year ago, Derek Feeley, IHI Executive Vice President and part of the IHI Leadership Alliance team, wrote a blog describing how, when you strive for improvement, “you learn as much from what doesn’t work, as from what does.” It took me a full year, a lot of hard work, a few big failures, and a healthy dose of courage to really understand what he meant. Now that I do, I will be taking this lesson with me as I head to the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health to pursue a master’s degree. 

The entire journey that led me from Florida to Boston and now to North Carolina is too long to re-travel, but it has a few mile markers I would like to recount. Two years ago, I applied to the MSW program at Boston College. The program was exceptional, expensive, and (most attractively) didn’t require a GRE. The application was, in my eyes, minimal input for maximal potential output. I should pause here and explain that my fear of failure has at times inhibited my ability to put too much effort into pursuing my dreams.

I did not get into the program. I didn’t have enough experience. Despite feeling crushed — like my shoulders were rounding forward as my chest imploded — I eventually found the courage to pursue the experience I needed. I applied for jobs advocating for and working with vulnerable populations. I was particularly excited about one job because it aligned perfectly with my passion for working in a global arena. Again, I was disappointed. This time, though, the sting of failure really lingered. I wasn’t used to trying hard for something and not getting it. I was afraid of what it said about me that I wasn’t able to achieve what I wanted. I didn’t think I had it in me to fail again.

Next is the biggest mile marker in my journey. I applied for a position at IHI. There is no way to summarize how it felt to achieve something I really wanted and really worked for after repeatedly failing. More than just a job, at IHI I’ve been able to push myself to develop new skills, try new things, and learn new ideas. 

My experience as the project coordinator for the IHI Leadership Alliance, in particular, motivated my decision to return to school because I realized I want to be like the leaders I was working with on a day-to-day basis. Leadership Alliance faculty members like Don Berwick, Derek Feeley, and George Kerwin, for example, taught me what leaders of health care need to do today to truly deliver on the full promise of the Triple Aim tomorrow. People like Pierre Barker, Steve Swensen, and Andrea Kabcenell taught me about how to partner with physicians to reduce burnout. It’s hard not to listen to these conversations without wondering what you can do to be a part of it.

The journey of the Leadership Alliance parallels my own in many ways. We’re both veering off the safe path in pursuit of ambitious results. We’re both putting our blood, sweat, and tears into a radical redesign of the status quo. We know that the road may not be straightforward and smooth the whole way. We know that there are no guaranteed outcomes and the outcomes may not always be what we expect. We know that we will sometimes fail. Despite that, we have found the courage to roll up our sleeves in support of something we’re passionate about.

I have so much faith in the future of the Alliance, and the impact it will have on health care. I see myself in those leaders, or at least the person that I want to be in two years. The type of person who tries hard and sometimes fails big without shame, or regret, but sincere gratitude.

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