Post-its and Patient Interviews: Nursing Professor Adds Creative Touch to Open School Courses

July 2013

​Colleen Hayes, MHS, RN, trained dozens of nurses during her 30 years in health care.

“We’d get new nurses who had skills, could assess patients, and understood the sciences,” she says. “But when they started, they’d have trouble working within a system.”

Now, as a second-career professor at Western Carolina University, Hayes is trying to fix that disconnect.

“It’s important for students to understand systems and processes,” she says. “We need to bring it into training as early as possible.”

Using the IHI Open School courses, Hayes is doing just that — and she’s doing it with some creative techniques. In her two years in the classroom at Western Carolina University, Hayes has used several online courses from IHI and some unique ideas to teach 25 - 60 nursing students per semester about leadership and patient safety. (She is one of more than 200 health professions professors who have integrated the Open School courses into their curriculum in the past few years.) Students in both the BSN and the accelerated second-degree programs are required to complete Hayes’s class, Leadership and Management in Nursing, in their final semester before they graduate and enter the workforce.

“On evaluations, students have found the [online modules] to be valuable — especially the IHI Open School leadership course,” Hayes says. “That one gets mentioned as being really tangible and useful. They like the stories, the videos, and the interaction between professions.”

Hayes increases the interactive element of the courses with several additional strategies:

  • Using Post-its after patient safety: After students complete PS 100: Introduction to Patient Safety, PS 101: Fundamentals of Patient Safety, and PS 102: Human Factors and Safety, Hayes hangs two large, blank posters in class. On one, students write one thing they learned from the three courses. On the other, students write one thing about how they felt after taking the courses. “It’s often hard to get people to talk about these things,” Hayes says. “You ask them what they learned and everyone just looks at you.” This way, she says, conversations take off because the sticky notes are grouped into discussion points. The class discusses the fear of making an error, how workarounds can be problematic, and how an individual is part of a system. “It’s pretty well received,” she says.
  • Getting a patient’s perspective: Students complete a patient interview assignment (see image below) to get a different perspective on the health care journey. “We spend some time thinking about what good or bad nursing care can look like,” Hayes says. “They start to get a broader view of how their attitudes and behaviors matter to patients.”WCU-Assignment.png
  • Learning to apologize: This past semester, Hayes started using PS 105: Communicating with Patients after Adverse Events and connected it with the patient interview assignment. After identifying a case with a dissatisfied patient or family, or a case where a patient was harmed, she separates the class into small groups to craft apologies to patients and families. “They pretend they are the nursing director, charge nurse, or medical director delivering an apology,” Hayes says. “The class then evaluates the group on whether they hit all the components of an apology. They learn it’s more than just saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”


Hayes also asks the class to create a cause and effect (fishbone) diagram to help dissect an error and to write a reflection about a personal experience after completing the leadership course.

“It’s a pretty full class,” she says. “I wish I had more time.”

End-of-course evaluations show that students like the online modules. Hayes says that students have scored well on exam questions related to the content covered in the IHI Open School courses. She’d like to expand their reach at Western Carolina, perhaps by working them into some interprofessional education on campus.

“It would be nice for different schools within the health sciences to complete some modules and then come together and discuss,” she says.

Hayes also teaches a class to students in their first semester and is considering including Open School courses in that syllabus.

“It’s expert, up-to-date content and it’s easy to integrate,” she says. “I’d like to introduce them even earlier in our program.”

To learn more about the how Professor Hayes is using the IHI Open School courses at Western Carolina University, email her at

Average Content Rating
(1 user)
Please login to rate or comment on this content.
User Comments