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Mobilization Milestone: 30,000 Students Pledge to Improve Population Health

By IHI Open School | Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Two years ago, the IHI Open School began an unprecedented experiment: could future health care professionals learn the skills to improve not just the quality of care, but the health of their communities?

We named this effort the IHI Open School Change Agent Network (I-CAN), and at the end of the last year, we reached our ambitious goal: mobilizing 30,000 students and professionals to improve population health. One of the keystones of this two-year project has been an online course, Leadership and Organizing to Improve Population Health, in which participants applied new skills to real-world projects. As we look back on the first phase of this project and prepare to launch the next offering of the course, we’re highlighting three student projects and how they changed learners’ perspectives on what it takes to lead change. We hope you’ll join us in the next offering of this course, starting in March.

Tummy Time: Organizing New Parents to Improve Infant Development

Placing new babies on their stomachs is important for child development, but not all parents know about this simple intervention, known as “tummy time.” In July 2014, Melissa Gilbreth, a second-year medical student at the University of South Carolina (USC), created a tool to educate mothers about how, why, and when to provide tummy time to their infants, following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines. Melissa enrolled in the first cycle of the I-CAN leadership course with a modest aim to educate 100 expectant and new caregivers about tummy time by February 2015.

As Melissa identified and recruited other student leaders to join her team, they distributed leadership responsibilities and developed a more audacious aim together: 2,000 signed pledges to practice tummy time with infants. As new leaders joined, they expanded the project’s scope to include a pilot research study, development of educational materials, partnerships with centering pregnancy groups, recruitment of provider volunteers, and expansion into Hispanic neighborhoods. This included translation of all educational materials into Spanish and purchasing dolls that better represented families in this community for role playing.

As Melissa reports:

The project is more audacious than I envisioned alone. We used the I-CAN curriculum to develop shared leadership, identify common values, and connect to team members’ interests. Through I-CAN, I personally became more purposeful in the development of relationships between team members and am now better able to not only create a distributed model of leadership, but cultivate it. … [For example,] we used the one-to-one meetings as a mechanism for our leaders to reach out to team members, and then for our team members to recruit new team members. We used personal narrative as a part of our one-to-one meetings to ensure that people’s motivations matched the part of the project that they actively worked on. Together we are drawing from our collective experiences and this has strengthened our vision. … I-CAN guided me to develop a stronger sense of purpose in my project. It helped me keep an open mind to all that others could offer and [as a result] the project has grown. I have learned how to promote leadership from student volunteers, identify shared goals, and enable others to lead.

Over the course of the three cycles, six tummy time leadership team members completed the I-CAN course, and more than 35 USC IHI Open School Chapter students participated in the project. The South Carolina Healthy Birth Outcomes Initiative is working with the tummy time team to spread and scale the effort across the state. Other IHI Open School students have asked the tummy time team to help them replicate the project locally.

Stop the JMU Flu: A Vaccination Campaign

A team of 10 student leaders from the IHI Open School Chapter at James Madison University (JMU) set an aim to secure 2,000 signed pledges from on-campus students to “stop the JMU flu” by practicing proper hygiene and getting vaccinated between October 1 and November 15, 2015. The team enrolled in the third offering of the I-CAN leadership course and participated in the International Pledge-a-Thon, a month-long competition between Open School Chapters to gather the most pledges to improve health, with a winning total of 2,137 people pledging to get vaccinated.

The JMU team mobilized 15 other student volunteers to canvass the campus, staff information tables, support the vaccination clinic, and volunteer at local pharmacies. The volunteers held a competition between student organizations, including Greek organizations and SafeRides, to collect the most pledges.

The team partnered with student organizations, and representatives from many JMU departments, including the University Health Center, Marketing and Communications, Organization Development, Student Activities, Involvement, and flu vaccination clinic. On the first day of their involvement, the students administered more vaccines than in any two-day period since the program started. In fact, on the second day, the clinic ran out of vaccines!

A team member remarked:

The biggest value that I saw from the I-CAN project was the leadership development and experience that our students gained. We had a number of students volunteer to take on a leadership role in our project [who] had limited leadership experience and they all grew into themselves very nicely. Additionally, they learned the idea of network thinking and how to inspire/mobilize people for a common aim. This experience led half of the leadership team to run for positions on our Chapter’s leadership board, spring-boarding them into more leadership experience.

Dundee Active: Organizing Students to Exercise on Their Way to University

Alice Willison, a third-year medical student at the University of Dundee, has been passionate about adding physical activity to her daily life ever since she transformed her unhealthy teenage lifestyle into a dedication to regular exercise. She is now turning her enthusiasm for keeping fit into an effort to organize students at the University of Dundee. Her goal is to encourage 100 medical students to switch their sedentary car commutes to either walking or cycling to classes by the end of May 2016. Her project is still in progress, but she’s already learned a lot about leadership.

Alice said:

I now actually believe that I can be a change agent in health care! As a student, I never felt my voice was heard, or that anything I did mattered to a member of staff. That was such a misconception. By taking part in the I-CAN course, I realized that persistence makes up a lot of what it takes to be a change agent. I set a goal of getting 100 medical students to cycle to university, and I must admit progress is slow. But being a change agent means you have to power through. I'm consistently contacting other medical student groups to spread the word, as well as members of staff and leaders of the medical school. It's not easy, but my team is there if I need support, and so is are the I-CAN leaders. After taking the I-CAN course, I feel like I know what it takes; I feel like I am definitely capable of making change.

I’ve learned that leadership is all about common ground. If I can pitch my idea to someone in a way that makes them think the idea was theirs in the first place, I know I've got a long-term team member. The I-CAN course taught me how to be a better communicator. My new approach is to bring everyone together, face to face, and get a group discussion going. By doing this, everyone leaves feeling like they're working toward their own goal, rather that someone else's. Work doesn't feel like a chore when you're doing what you want to. This can be applied to personal relationships too: communication and togetherness is key. I-CAN has really shown me how valuable simply talking — and I mean talking, not typing — to one another can be.

The next offering of the I-CAN course, Leadership and Organizing to Improve Population Health, starts on March 4 and runs for eight weeks. Fill out a simple application to participate in the free course here.
Tags: Leadership

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