Why It Matters
We’re highlighting four projects in which students leveraged the skills they learned in the Open School course, Leadership and Organizing for Change, to lead local projects of their own design.
Processing ...

Four Ways Students Organized their Communities to Improve Health

By Becka DeSmidt | Thursday, February 9, 2017

Every year, more than 150 students submit storyboard presentations to the IHI National Forum that highlight their work leading quality improvement projects, IHI Open School Chapters, and efforts to organize their communities towards better health. A group of interprofessional faculty review the submissions across the categories and select winners to present their storyboards at a special session.

We’re highlighting four projects in which students leveraged the skills they learned in the IHI Open School Change Agent Network (I-CAN) ten-week online training on leadership and community organizing to engage classmates, colleagues, and community members in local projects of their own design.


Storyboard Winner

Project title: Sustainability of a Mental Health Prevention Initiative through Community Engagement

Presenter: Nikos Karakashian

Program: University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine

In 2014, Nikos, a medical student, and Shannen Widdon, a nursing student, launched a project to address mental health at the University of South Florida.

The project’s aims were to raise awareness about the prevalence of depression, how to identify depression when it occurs, and where to find local mental health treatment resources. Health science students and undergraduate students worked together to design and distribute cards with this information.

In designing the project, Nikos and Shannen emphasized interprofessional teamwork and prioritized making the project sustainable in the long-term.

Reflections on the experience:

As a medical student, this was Nikos’s first time leading a hands-on community health improvement initiative. The experience exposed him to challenges in public health, primary prevention, and mental health, and also gave him the opportunity to design and implement a project, manage a team, and above all, think critically about the systems he works within and how he can take initiative to improve them –– which are all skills that he will bring with him to his career in primary care.

Nikos’s advice for others aiming to organize their communities is that developing personal relationships is the key to gaining commitment and motivation from members of a team.

Project title: Exploring Access to Healthcare for the Homeless Population in Green Bay, WI

Presenters: Kortney Marshall & Mary Forbes

Program: Bellin College Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Kortney and Mary, both leaders of the IHI Open School Chapter at Bellin College, launched a project to improve access to health care for the homeless population in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The students shared a vision that the homeless population could have higher health literacy, easier access to transportation, and more affordable health care if they were aware of the resources that were available to them in their community.

The aim of their project was to provide over 200 members of the Green Bay homeless population with information they needed in order to better access health care services.

Members of the Bellin IHI Open School Chapter created a pamphlet with information that would be helpful to the homeless community and distributed it at a meal at the homeless shelter that they sponsored.

Reflections on the experience:

A pivotal moment in the project for Kortney and Mary was realizing that the assets they needed already existed within the community, and the role they could play was to make connections, build relationships, and help the homeless population navigate the resources that were available to them.

Kortney’s advice to anyone considering launching a project is “Go for it!” In her view, there are so many areas of health care that need improvement, that students should feel empowered to just get started.


Project title: “I-CAN” to “We Did”: A Quality Management Class & Medical Student-Run Clinic Co-op

Presenter: Catherine Counts

Program: Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

Catherine Counts, a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant, along with another faculty member at Tulane University, collaborated with the IHI Open School to integrate the curriculum from the online Leadership & Organizing to Improve Population Health course with a master’s level Quality Management course — bringing together the disciplines of quality improvement and community organizing.

Students in the course were divided into interdisciplinary teams and assigned the responsibility of reaching out to a medical school student-run clinic to develop a project to improve some facet of the quality of care provided to patients.

Reflections on the experience:

Counts observed that the students in the course enjoyed the real-world application of the skills they were learning – even if the projects involved some complexity. The fact that the students had to collaborate with team members from different professional backgrounds and had to contend with messy data made the learning experience a more realistic and rewarding challenge.


Project title: Implementing a Modified Comprehensive Elder Exam Model for High-Risk Admissions

Presenter: Cristina Stuefen

Program: University of Arizona Master of Science in Nursing; Lead Clinical Nurse, Tsehootsooi Medical Center

Cristina is a staff nurse at Tsehootsooi Medical Center, which serves a vulnerable population on the Navajo Nation Reservation — many of whom lack modern amenities like electricity and indoor plumbing. She launched a project to improve the quality of care that the facility provides to geriatric patients with comorbidities or any patients with a potentially life-limiting illness.

The aim of the project is to design a sustainable framework for interdisciplinary interventions for this high risk population, utilizing available resources to improve patient care management, and integrating community services into patients’ care transitions.

Reflections on the experience:

Cristina took an asset-based approach to engaging her colleagues, focusing on the services and resources available within the hospital and in the community that they could leverage to improve care transitions for their patients. Cristina found fellow staff at the hospital as well as leadership to be very receptive to her efforts, and realized that her approach of sitting down one-on-one for a conversation in person helped her gain buy-in.

Learn about the ten exemplary student-and-resident led quality improvement projects from this year’s National Forum.

A special thank you our community organizing faculty reviewers:

Jessica Perlo, MPH, Network Director, IHI Open School and Director, Joy in Work

Kate Hilton, JD, MTS, Faculty, IHI Open School; Director, ReThink Health

Sara Goldsby, MSW, MPH, Director, South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services

Learn about students' 2016 work on quality improvement projects in this blog post.

Tags: Leadership

first last

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

© 2022 Institute for Healthcare Improvement. All rights reserved.