Why It Matters
A valued Coaching Fellow for IHI’s online course, Leadership and Organizing for Change, is taking a hiatus – because he’s now leading two successful team projects to improve access to nutritious food and health care.
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Build the Skills to Lead Projects That Make a Difference

By Becka DeSmidt | Friday, March 1, 2019


When I opened an email from Michael Haugsdal, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and read that he would not be rejoining the Coaching Fellow program this spring, my first reaction was disappointment.

The Coaching Fellows are a team of volunteer graduates from IHI’s online course, Leadership and Organizing for Change, who undergo additional training to build their skills to offer personal coaching and support to new learners designing and launching projects through the course.

Coaching Fellows come from diverse backgrounds. They work in clinical settings as frontline staff leading improvement work, at universities in faculty roles promoting interprofessional education, and as public health professionals addressing the upstream determinants of health. What brings them together is a shared vision of empowering the IHI community of change agents to lead change effectively in their local settings. Each member of the team receives training in coaching frameworks, relationship-building, and even storytelling to help learners to tap into the values that drive them to initiate change despite often meeting with logistical obstacles or resistance from their colleagues. During the four-month program, Coaching Fellows have the chance to go deeper in leadership and community organizing concepts, develop their coaching skills, connect with and support one another as a team, and give back to our network of learners by offering individual support to help learners achieve their goals in the course.

The Coaching Fellow program regularly elicits 100% satisfaction from participants and measurably increases participants’ knowledge and confidence in practicing their coaching skills. Many Coaching Fellows return more than once to the program, a testament to their commitment to our learning community.

So when I learned that Michael couldn’t commit to the role this spring, I was saddened to lose a valuable member of our team. But then I kept reading.

Michael wrote, “The opportunities I've had so far with IHI have helped me accelerate confidently into various leadership roles that seek to make a difference among our patients as well as within the learning environments of our medical students; and I think my energy/time might be best directed at some of those projects that I've become involved in and aren't afforded time in my planned 'work schedule.' So I guess it's really partly your fault (tongue-in-cheek!) for helping me develop the added confidence, organizational skills, and leadership strategies that are indirectly causing me to ask for leave from this session!” 

Michael went on to share progress on two projects he’s been involved in leading. The first is an “upstream clinic” in a high-risk obstetrics practice that in the year since its opening has screened nearly 300 patients for food insecurity, then connected those patients with nutritional resources in their communities. Students at the University of Iowa originated the idea and continue to run the clinic, leveraging IHI resources to lead continuous improvement. The second is a partnership with a local food pantry to identify the prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes among food pantry clients. Under the premise that food is medicine, the project aims to help the food pantry organize resources effectively and “prescribe” resources appropriate to each client depending on their health condition. The project team is surveying clients to identify barriers to access to health care, and the group plans to collaborate with a student-run mobile clinic to offer basic health screenings.

With all the progress that Michael and his colleagues and trainees have accomplished in addressing the unmet social needs of their patients, my momentary sadness turned to pride. It was impossible for me to begrudge Michael’s decision to step away from the Coaching Fellow program, given the impressive work he’s leading locally. And in the end, the most important measure of our success in the Coaching Fellow program is building the capacity for each member of the team to use their leadership and improvement skills in their organizations, patient populations, and communities to meaningfully improve health and health care everywhere.

Learn more about IHI's upcoming Leadership and Organizing for Change online course, that helped Michael along his leadership journey and apply for a scholarship.

Becka DeSmidt is Senior Program Manager of Applied Learning for IHI’s Open School.

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