Why It Matters
500,000+ students and residents passing through the virtual doors of the IHI Open School means over half a million people equipped with the necessary skills to lead change.
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Half a million and counting: IHI Open School student enrollment exceeds 500,000

By IHI Open School | Wednesday, March 1, 2017

[The following is a letter from IHI President & CEO Derek Feeley and IHI Open School Executive Director Carly Strang.]

At IHI, we frequently challenge ourselves with how can we reach more people to spread the will for and knowledge of patient safety and quality improvement in health care? How can we reach new parts of the world? How can we reach leaders, providers, and students?

The answer, quite often, is the IHI Open School.

The Open School, with 35+ online courses and organic Chapters around the world, has achieved another goal — more than 500,000 students and residents have passed through its virtual doors. This amazing reach is, all at once, exciting, humbling, and inspiring. And it would have been hard to foresee eight years ago.

Back in 2008, a small group of thoughtful leaders, dedicated students, and IHI staff members came together to design the “other” school. The goal was to fill a gap in health care education — to train students, together, to improve the quality and safety of the health care system. At the time, Don Berwick, then IHI’s CEO and President, believed that the next generation of health care providers was integral to the success of IHI’s mission to improve health and health care worldwide. The online courses, offered free to students and residents, have been built into the curriculum of more than 1,000 universities around the world. Not long after we launched, we expanded our definition of learner to include professionals and organizations seeking access to quality and safety training.

Students have now become ingrained in our daily work here at IHI. And, now, eight years later, even Don is surprised by the exponential growth that the Open School has seen around the world. “If this is not changing the world, I don’t know what is,” he said. “It can be catalytic in changing health care far more than I would have hoped.”

The number — 500,000 — is exciting, something we can put on a bulletin board to remind us how far we’ve come. But the number is just a number. What this milestone really celebrates is the 500,000+ students, residents, and faculty who are armed with the necessary skills — in improvement science, leadership, and community organizing — to lead change. These future leaders are completing online courses in their “free” time, chartering local Chapters on their campuses, leading improvement projects in their local health systems, and even organizing efforts to improve health of populations in their local communities. Students and trainees have tackled all types of improvement initiatives across many settings including reduction of pre-term deliveries, improving access to behavioral health services, and reducing wait times. Below are just a two examples of how students from around the world have translated their learning into action and there are many more conducting QI projects and improving health in their local communities:

Micaela Bresler & Courtney Gleason, University of Cincinnati, United States

Micaela, a pharmacy student, and Courtney, a physical therapy student, lead an interprofessional Chapter comprised of 150 students across nursing, nutrition, pharmacy, medicine, physical therapy, and dental hygiene. The University of Cincinnati Chapter embodies the power of students to lead change. The Chapter has successfully established an interprofessional student-run clinic, which operates out of St. Vincent de Paul, a local charitable organization with which they built a Community-Academic Partnership. This collaborative model was instrumental to the development of a program that provides access to numerous support services for patients and the clientele of St. Vincent DePaul as well as opportunities for students to meaningfully practice quality improvement.

Njimafo Tiam (Armand), University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Armand, a junior doctor in training in Madagascar, leveraged the skills he developed in the Leadership and Organizing for Change course to organize his classmates, faculty at the medical school, faith leaders, and local families in the village of Andohamandry to promote greater awareness of the factors causing common preventable diseases – such as contaminated drinking water or using coal-burning stoves indoors. A year later, building on the experience of bringing his community together to take collective action to address a social determinant of health, he designed and led a mobilization effort aimed at improving childhood malnutrition in two disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city. Armand has also launched an IHI Open School Chapter at his university to engage fellow students in quality improvement and patient safety efforts, and connect with the broader IHI Open School network.

These students and residents around the world make us hopeful that our mission is possible to achieve. There’s quote on our walls here at IHI from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The Open School is certainly no longer a “small group,” as this milestone makes clear. But it once was – and we are extraordinarily grateful to that early vanguard that built the movement that has now spread around the world.

IHI is committed to bringing the methods and skills of improvement to everyone who wants and needs them. In 2017, we’re aiming to nearly double the number of people we reach with improvement; and we plan to more than triple our reach over the next three years. This wouldn’t be possible, nor even conceivable, without the Open School. Even more encouraging is that for so many of the 500,000, the Open School is not merely a “chapter” in their lives, but an induction into the world of quality improvement. The lessons you have learned and the knowledge you have gained will continue to inform and enrich your professional lives for decades to come.

If you’re part of the 500,000, we thank you for being a part of a movement that is making health care better for patients, families, and society as a whole. If you aren’t, we warmly invite you to be part of the next 500,000. We’ll be with you every step of the way.

With gratitude,

Derek Feeley, IHI President & CEO
Carly Strang, Executive Director, Open School

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