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Three ways for faculty to use IHI Open School courses in the curriculum

By IHI Open School | Thursday, May 28, 2015

Last month, our Editorial Director, Mike Briddon, asked if I’d be interested in presenting about the IHI Open School to a conference of nursing faculty.

“Me?” I thought. “I am neither a nurse nor a professor. What could I have to teach such an experienced group?”

Then I came up with an idea: showcase the work of nursing professors, and illustrate how they use the Open School courses in their teaching.

I set up phone calls with three innovators, asked them for some tips, and shared their stories at the Annual Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) Forum last week. But we didn’t want the learning to stop there — these ideas are helpful for any health faculty who want to teach the content covered in our catalog — so we’re sharing their experiences with you here, too. As you’ll see, the cases are listed in order of the extent they use the courses in their teaching:

1. Diana Jolles, Frontier Nursing University: “Why would I write a bunch of content on this when the world-renowned experts have already done it?”

Diana Jolles

When I first called Diana, she was on her way to deliver a baby. This sounded a lot more urgent than our interview, so I was happy to reschedule. When we connected the following week, she told me about her strategy in teaching with the IHI Open School courses in her course, Quality for Nurses, at Frontier Nursing University, the first distance-learning nursing school in the country.

“I have very minimal goals,” she says. “I want students to graduate knowing what IHI is.”

To that end, she assigns just one course, which she feels is the most valuable for nurse-midwives: PS 106: Introduction to the Culture of Safety. She simply requires them to turn in their certificate of course completion and then write a reflection paper about a time when they experienced a culture that undermined safety. “The patient safety module from IHI was eye-opening,” wrote one student, “particularly as I reflected on experiences in which an individual or an entrenched cultural norm bullied me into silence.” Diana is happy to know that her students are registered on ihi.org, where they can take more courses for continuing education credits after graduation.

Learn more about Diana’s work here.

2. Colleen Hayes, Western Carolina University: “It’s more fun for me, too.”


Colleen Hayes, a professor of nursing at Western Carolina University, couldn’t make it to QSEN because she was expecting her first grandbaby this week (congratulations!).

Colleen told me she uses several Open School courses in her course, Leadership and Management in Nursing. They are: PS 100: Introduction to Patient Safety, PS 101: Fundamentals of Patient Safety,  PS 102: Human Factors and Safety, PS 105: Communicating with Patients after Adverse Events, and L 101: Becoming a Leader in Health Care.

Colleen then uses a “flipped classroom” model to reinforce the learning in class through discussions and activities. For example, she asks students to analyze a leadership situation where they might have employed some of the strategies from one of the Open School courses. The students have enjoyed taking the courses instead of reading a textbook, and she has more fun, too, than if she were standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation every day.

In one of her most interesting activities, she asks students to interview a friend or family member about their experience as a patient. Then, in cases where something went wrong, students role-play an apology to the patient, covering the components from one of the Open School courses: acknowledgement, explanation, expression of remorse, and reparation.

 “Even if there was a bad outcome, the patient’s view could still be positive based on the way they were treated,” Colleen says. “That was a surprise to some of them.”

Colleen’s goal is for students to go into practice with an appreciation of the processes, systems, and protocols designed to keep patients safe. In her 35-year nursing career, she saw a lot of new nurses who needed that. “They’re not just individual nurses providing individual care, but involved in a complex system that creates risk for patients,” she says.

Learn more about Colleen’s course here.

3. Brian James, University of Stirling: “A bit of pain is what’s needed for real learning.”


Brian James, a nurse and teaching fellow in Scotland (third from left), can’t pinpoint when he first became interested in improvement — it’s always just been part of his personality. “If you walk into a situation, your job isn’t just to accept what’s there,” he says. “It’s to find out what’s the right thing to do.”

His journey with the Open School started in 2008, when he helped start a Chapter at his university. Since then, the nursing curriculum has incorporated more and more Open School courses, so that now students have to take the 16 essential courses in the Basic Certificate of Completion in order to graduate.

But the most intensive teaching on quality is the real-life quality improvement practicum — adapted from the IHI Open School Quality Improvement Practicum — Brian’s students undertake in their third year. Close to 600 students have completed an improvement project to date, and their work has yielded results: One student helped the cardiac care team in a hospital to be consistently notified when patients are moved, so that they can provide help quickly in an emergency. Another student created a new way to display personal information about dementia patients that ensured providers saw it.

“Most of them were in an absolute state of panic when they went into clinical practice, but everything fell into place,” Brian said. “A bit of pain is what’s needed for real learning. The classroom is too comfortable.”

Read Brian’s tips for starting your own practicum here (pdf).

It was inspiring to talk to these three professors, without whom the Open School couldn’t deliver on its mission to prepare a new generation of leaders in quality and safety. Many thanks to QSEN for providing the opportunity to share their work.

--Stephanie Garry Garfunkel

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