Why It Matters
"Every year, my favorite part of the Forum is hearing participants say how energizing and informative this conference is for them."
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Getting Better with Age: 27 Years of the IHI National Forum

By Kimberly Mitchell | Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Now in its 27th year, IHI’s National Forum is the annual gathering that improvers from around the world don’t want to miss. And Joanne Healy, a Senior Vice President at IHI who oversees the Forum, has never missed a single one. As one of the first employees to join IHI, she helped shape this flagship IHI program into what it is today — and maybe it has helped shape her in some ways, too.


When I was 14 years old, I fractured my pelvis in a car crash and spent a month in the hospital. I loved the nurses, who would take their breaks in my room and chat. But when I left, providers told me two things that were particularly devastating for a varsity basketball player to hear: I’d never run again, and I would always need a back brace. Fortunately, these predictions did not come true.

The kind nurses who helped me sparked my interest in health care. When I was 23, I got an opportunity to work on a three-year project called the National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care. I took the chance — even though my mom warned that it was a short-term job.

A few months later, I attended the first-ever IHI National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care in 1988 in Boston. There were 300 people there, which I thought was a huge crowd. I remember Don Berwick told the emotional story of his son’s difficult birth, and how the doctor stayed with these new, scared parents all night instead of leaving the hospital. Later, Don learned that the doctor’s parent had died that same night. It was the first of many times that his message would make me think, imagine, and, of course, cry.


The National Demonstration Project on Quality Improvement in Health Care staff in 1988,
with Joanne Healy (front row, second from left)

Twenty-seven years ago I had a feeling this project was going to turn into something more, but I had no idea how much bigger the National Forum would become. IHI now welcomes more than 5,000 attendees from 47 countries at the annual conference in Florida every December. Forum participants share their improvement knowledge with others in 130 educational sessions on a wide variety of topics, present more than 400 storyboards about their improvement work, and truly serve as leaders in our collective mission to improve the quality and safety of health care and health.

I have been to all 26 IHI National Forums and I’m not the only one. Many of the faculty from that first Forum are still close to IHI. Participants often come back year after year to hear about innovative work, see old friends and make new ones, and to think, imagine, and reconnect to the reasons why they chose to serve in the health professions.

Every year, my favorite part of the Forum is hearing participants say how energizing and informative this conference is for them. So many people tell me that the Forum recharges their battery and inspires them to go back to their organizations and make health and health care better.

I just turned 50 and it’s amazing to think I’ve spent more than half my life with IHI. I’ll be heading to my 27th Forum this December and I hope I’ll see you there, too. How many times have you been to the Forum? Please share your story in the comments section below.

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