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Meet a Regional Leader: Five Questions for Andy Carson-Stevens, MD

By IHI Open School | Friday, March 20, 2015
Andy Carson-Stevens, MD, pours a beer at the Guinness Pint Pulling Academy in Dublin, Ireland, after giving a talk to the Ireland Open School Chapters receiving their Basic Certificates of Completion.

The Open School network is growing — and our Regional Leaders are here to support your Chapter whether you’re a start-up or well-established. 

What do Regional Leaders do? They’re long-time members of the Open School who can help Chapters on a one-to-one basis. Try them out when you have questions about planning events, finding resources in the Open School, connecting with other Chapters in your region, or brainstorming activities for your Chapter.

To highlight the expertise of our Regional Leaders, we’re bringing you the "Meet a Regional Leader" series on this blog. So far we’ve heard from Sarah Miano, RN, in the Midwest, and Jo Inge Myhre, MD, who supports Continental Europe from Oslo, Norway. Today, we’re featuring Andy Carson-Stevens, who teaches health care improvement at Cardiff University in the UK and at the University of British Columbia in Canada. He supports Chapters in the UK and Ireland.

1) Why did you go into health care?

Applying to medical school emerged from my interest in people. I remember visiting my grandfather in the hospital after a big operation when I was 7 years old. My entire family surrounded him with so much love and attention. But I also saw how left out and sad other patients in the ward looked when they had no visitors. So I would go talk to them, help them by fetching a glass of water or puffing up their pillows and keeping them company. Early on I realized how vulnerable and sometimes lonely people were in hospitals. Looking back, even 7-year-old me was trying to make a difference to patients’ experience. I carry this philosophy with me now on ward rounds and clinics. Before leaving a patient’s bedside or before they leave my clinic, I say to all my patients, "What else can I do to improve your day?" Sometimes they say, "Can you explain why you started this new drug again, Andy?" or, "Will you help me get to the toilet?" — often things I just would not expect. Sometimes the little things matter most. My students now ask patients this too; read about how they get on, and check out the IHI Open School Ask One Question Challenge page. 

2) Why does quality improvement matter to you?

Think of someone you love the most. Now imagine the kind of care you would wish and pray that they would receive should they ever get sick. During my training to become a doctor I witnessed so many deviations from great care that I would not want for my own loved ones. Sometimes the health care providers were conscious of those deviations and other times they were blinded by the norms of the system. So what would it look like for an entire workforce to be driven to provide the kind of care they would want for their own loved ones? A dream? I think the IHI Open School can help make this dream come true. 

When I discovered the Open School, I found the courage to confront the status quo – but peacefully. Thought leader and educator Helen Bevan talks about rocking the boat and staying in it. This is exactly what the Open School helped me to do — it gave me the skills to identify an opportunity for improvement and to generate ideas for change that made sense to the multi-professional teams I worked with, as well as the tools to measure whether those changes made a difference, all via a series of small developments and tests called PDSA cycles. I learned that data and stories were powerful allies for driving improvement. The IHI Open School course L 101: Becoming a Leader In Health Care  taught me how to appear a helpful “maverick” rather than an unhelpful “troublemaker.” 

As a community we can learn so much together that will help us improve the lives of so many more patients — learning with, from, and about the experiences of other Open Schoolers who have rocked the boat and stayed in it. Consider sharing your experiences today in the comments of this blog post.

3) What was your best moment with the Open School community?

I was part of a group of Open School leaders that organized a patient safety campaign called "Check a Box. Save a Life." to raise awareness and encourage uptake of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. Researchers at Harvard had shown a checklist that promoted communication between multi-professional teams in operating rooms could reduce harm by about 60 percent and avoidable deaths by nearly half. We organized ourselves to mobilize the IHI Open School community to action! This was back in 2009 when the Open School community only had a couple of thousand members. We had no resources so used what we did have — our fellow Open Schoolers to help build and spread the campaign to raise awareness and find ways for teams in hospitals to test out the checklist. We shared some simple ideas via a launch call and then it really took off. More than 2,000 students from different disciplines contributed to the campaign including public health, nursing, health administration, IT, medicine, and others. People found their own role in the campaign — giving talks about it, sharing copies of the journal article with department chiefs, data collecting to demonstrate the need for change as well as creating apps to support this, and even testing the checklist in operating rooms by calling out checklist items for teams. The community kept identifying new ways of innovating to encourage uptake of this life-saving tool. If you are interested to read more about the campaign, we wrote a paper about the experience.

4) Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.

I love music, and I really love Spotify because it allows me to listen to my favorite pieces of music played so many different ways — different instrumental arrangements, performers, styles — bliss! However, lots of good variation exists but some impressive examples of bad variation too. Building my ideal playlist has required many, many, many PDSA cycles.   

5) What one piece of advice would you give a new Chapter?

Your membership will be the heart and soul of your Chapter community at your place of work or study. You want as many great people as possible to join you on this journey to improve health and health care quality, so how you sell the Open School to them is really important. A few years back, some Open Schoolers met with Dan Heath, the management guru and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Made to Stick, to make a “sticky” resource pack to help kick-start your marketing of your Open School Chapter. From an eye-catching introductory email to your student cohort or even the dean of your faculty, to the script for a two-minute elevator pitch, there’s probably something in there to help you spread the word and engage widely — check it out here.  

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