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A Crowded Table in Omaha

By Mike Briddon | Friday, March 1, 2013
The first table I saw in Omaha had a steak on it. As a matter of fact, it had two – one for my host on the trip, Dr. Thomas Hansen, and one, fortunately, for me. (For the record, I really, really like steak. A lot.) The waitress, who delivered the world-famous thick cuts, asked us if we needed anything else, smiled at my excitement, and then left us to enjoy our dinners. I raised my knife and fork, and prepared my eager taste buds for the first mouth-watering bite …

The second table I saw in Omaha was imaginary. And it was crowded. Health professions students, faculty, deans, and health professionals all huddled around it to help start an IHI Open School Chapter at Creighton University and, in the process, put a bright spotlight on patient safety, quality improvement, and leadership.

Now, as I’m flying home – I’m somewhere between Chicago and Boston – I’m shocked to say I don’t even recall the steak. The second table was far more memorable.

I went to Creighton this past Wednesday to help launch an IHI Open School Chapter. Dr. Hansen, Associate Dean for Medical Education, invited me to join him for a day of meetings and to give a presentation about IHI and the IHI Open School. (They say people in the Midwest are incredibly hospitable. That’s wrong, though. People at Creighton are way nicer than that.)

I met Dr. Hansen last summer when he attended the IHI Immersion Program. My colleague and I gave a brief presentation about the IHI Open School and how much it’s grown in the last four years. Dr. Hanson wanted to learn more and stayed in touch during the fall and winter. At this year’s IHI National Forum, we connected and he said that he’d started to spread the word back in Nebraska. He really wanted to start a Chapter and thought the students would be thrilled with the idea.

Thursday, yesterday, was the test. Not fully knowing what to expect, Dr. Hansen set up a number of meetings and sent out invitations for an evening presentations.

IHI Open School Chapters, now numbering more than 550 in nearly 60 countries, start in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it’s just a group of really engaged students. Other times, there are a few faculty members who think quality and safety are just too important to leave out of the curriculum. Both models have proven to be successful. But Dr. Hanson took a different approach: He wanted everyone involved from the start. Taking a page out of the quality improvement playbook, Dr. Hanson wanted to get all the stakeholders to the table before anyone turned an ignition key.

We started the day at 7 AM and met with deans from all the different health professions schools. From there, we met with assorted faculty members from the medical school, the nursing school, and the pharmacy school. After that, the newly formed interprofessional education committee convened. Next, for lunch, we met with a group of students. And then it was off to the local hospital to meet with the head of patient safety and quality. All five meetings had the same outcome: “Yes! Let’s do this! When can we start?”
The evening presentation drew a crowd of about 80 – several participants from the day’s meetings made their way to the Harper Center and several newcomers, including the local hospital’s chief nursing officer, grabbed appetizers and seats. A handful of students watched from a remote campus. Others told us earlier in the day they were very interested, but couldn’t make it.

The presentation – which initially froze on the first slide, an opportunity I took to explain “it wasn’t my fault; it’s the system” – went for about an hour, but it was just the beginning. Almost everyone stayed for another 30-45 minutes to start talking about what they could do next: When could the students meet with the quality department at the hospital? How could the professors integrate some of the IHI Open School modules into the curricula? When’s the first Chapter meeting? The energy was contagious and palpable.

After the final group left, Dr. Hanson and I walked down the back steps toward the cold Omaha night. “So how did everything go?” I asked. “Are you happy with today?”

“It went better than I could have possibly imagined,” he said. “All day, everyone has been so excited about this. The response has been just great.”

The Chapter is up and running, and I hope everyone from Creighton stays at that imaginary table. There’s always plenty of room and an extra seat available for anyone and everyone involved in the health care system.

As for me, I’ll probably just go with a salad if I’m ever back in Omaha. I won’t remember it anyway.
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