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Four Outstanding Student-Led Projects

By Stephanie Garry Garfunkel | Monday, January 8, 2018

Every year, the IHI Open School receives hundreds of posters from students who have led quality improvement work, IHI Open School Chapters, or community organizing projects.

This year, we selected the four most impressive projects to feature in a special session of the IHI National Forum. But we didn’t want the learning to end there. Read up on the student work below, and be sure to click through each summary to see the student storyboards for even more information about their work.

All storyboards from the National Forum are available to view here.

Quality Improvement Project: Providing Linguistically Competent Care for Refugee Patients in Clarkston, Georgia


Julia Schiff, Medical and Public Health Student, Emory University

Lacey Gleason, Public Health Student, Emory University

Background: The Clarkston Community Health Center (CCHC) is a volunteer-run, free clinic for refugee and indigent populations in Clarkston, GA. The clinic serves a diverse community, with more than 60 languages spoken. The IHI Open School Chapter at Emory University partnered with CCHC in Spring 2016 and received a grant to improve interpretive services in 2017.

Aim: By December 31, 2017, increase by 50 percent the percentage of patients at Clarkston Community Health Center who receive appropriate interpretation services from a provider, trained volunteer, or tele-interpreter during their clinic visit.

Results: At baseline, about 26 percent of patients were receiving adequate interpretation services. By the end of the project, the team exceeded the goal of 40 percent of patients receiving adequate interpretation.

Reflections: One of the most exciting components of this project was working with an inter-disciplinary team. Emory's IHI Open School Chapter recruited a group of students from various schools including Medicine, Public Health, Business, Nursing, and College to work on this project. The diverse skills and strengths of the students were helpful and utilized to aid with the development and implementation of the project. It also provided the team with a great opportunity to interact with individuals who had similar interests and commitment to quality improvement in health care. Furthermore, the inclusion and recruitment of a multi-disciplinary team of mentors, staff, community members, and interpreters was instrumental in the success of this project. We were thrilled to represent our team at the IHI National Forum and to highlight the great improvements we made in linguistic services and care provided to the Atlanta refugee community. 

Quality Improvement Project: Exploring Underutilization of a Refugee Women's Health Clinic


Simone Vais, Medical Student, Boston University

Background: The Refugee Women’s Health Clinic (RWHC) provides OBGYN services for refugees, asylum seekers, and new immigrants in the Greater Boston area. The RWHC experienced a break in services one year ago, and the new clinic team is working on rebuilding the RWHC. This project aims to explore causes for underutilization of the RWHC and implement strategies to increase utilization.

Aim: To increase the number of visits to the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic by 20 percent by February 2018.

Results: The number of patients arriving at their appointments has increased steadily over the course of the year, and we have surpassed our goal for both appointments and visits to the clinic. We have implemented most of the interventions pertaining to increasing internal awareness and referrals to the RWHC, and have begun focusing our efforts towards removing external barriers for our patients. Our first intervention to this end will be aiming to secure transportation to the clinic for our most vulnerable patients.

Reflections: Interviewing our refugee patients about their needs and barriers and analyzing the results of those conversations completely shifted the direction of this project. Many of the factors that we had assumed would be barriers to our patients were wrong. Had we launched our interventions based solely on the beliefs of providers, we would have focused our efforts in the wrong places. Seeing the power and utility of these conversations has impacted the way I hope to approach QI projects in the future.

Community Organizing Project: Interprofessional Education at the University of Miami


James Banks, MD, Radiology Fellow, Mayo Clinic - Jacksonville

Nicolette Vassallo, Medical Student, University of Miami

Background: Accrediting bodies are placing increasing emphasis on interprofessional collaboration across graduate education programs. At the same time, students and faculty are increasingly seeking opportunities to engage in multidisciplinary service-learning activities.

Organizing sentence: We are organizing University of Miami students and faculty to perform interprofessional education, service, and research activities by December 2017 through an IHI Open School Chapter.

Outcomes: The project team successfully recruited student and faculty leaders in all targeted schools, formed a leadership structure, developed a budget, and registered as a student group. The Chapter attended activity fairs to improve visibility, raise awareness, and drive recruitment, and expanded its membership and faculty mentors. The Chapter held regular meetings, completed Open School courses, and led a patient safety simulation event. Relationship building was key to the Chapter’s success, and we’ve used it to expand our support base and to identify stakeholders and new partners. 

Reflections: Never underestimate the importance of returning to your shared values together as a team. The most far reaching and impactful projects are ones where an entire group of people can get behind a cause and pursue it, because they’ve taken the time to understand why they all got involved in the work in the first place. By turning those values into a mission statement, with specific aims that others could rally behind, you’re able to develop as leaders and meaningfully improve your community.

IHI Open School Chapter Project: A Team-Based Approach to Improve Chapter Outcomes at the University of South Carolina


Jennifer Mandelbaum, MPH, PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, University of South Carolina

Background: Since 2010, the University of South Carolina IHI Open School Chapter has provided a forum for health care students to interact in meaningful ways. Our Chapter promotes growth through interprofessional project-based learning, quality improvement and population health education, and opportunities for leadership. This year we formed three new teams to shift responsibility and opportunities for leadership to more Chapter members. We also formed the QUEST (Quality Improvement and Education in Systems Training) program to provide health science students further opportunities for applying quality improvement principles.

Vision statement: To become a national leader in student quality improvement education and application, by forming partnerships with health care stakeholders, creating a powerful interprofessional learning environment, and engaging students with real-world opportunities to positively influence population health.

Successes: The Chapter developed new leadership as previous leaders graduated, planned a fall activity around the Quadruple Aim, hosted a QI idea exploration event to help students find QI projects they would be interested in leading, and founded a program for students to be involved in hands-on QI work.

Reflections: The biggest piece of advice I would give others looking to carry out similar work is to have patience. Organizational change takes time, and it is not as simple as placing people in groups and giving them some direction. Establishing team leaders and outlining the objectives of each team are important steps when taking a team-based approach as we have, and students may need more guidance at the beginning as the teams figure out their identity both as a group of interprofessional students and as a vital part of the Open School Chapter.

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