Medical students already carry a heavy academic load, but an opportunity to supplement their formal education with more patient-safety and quality topics is leading them to a new initiative offered by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
The IHI has created the Open School to teach what many within healthcare have considered to be the soft skills of medical education, concepts such as patient engagement, implementing change, dealing with errors, and fostering teams and communication.
The school uses a combination of virtual and traditional learning techniques to connect students: There are podcasts, Web sites and suggestions for books and research materials. Free classes are hosted via online social networking sites, such as recorded sessions with world-renowned experts presented on a YouTube channel and a forum for posting discussions on Facebook.
The school has ignited interest in students from around the globe who are hungry for training in areas they think are lacking in their institutions, says Jill Duncan, director of the Open School. More than 9,000 healthcare professionals have signed up for the online coursework since the school was launched last fall.
In addition, some 110 student chaptersinformal groups through which students may interacthave sprung up in the U.S. and overseas, in some ways taking on a life of their own as the students come up with their own ideas for furthering learning about safety and quality, Duncan says. Were really using students as the developers for the school, she says.
The IHI uses an academic advisory board to guide the schools development and healthcare experts from around the world serve as faculty and develop course content. The quality organization also is working on developing opportunities for students to receive certification and credits for taking its classes and expects to roll out a basic certification this fall, Duncan says.
What works in the IHIs favor is that medical students today are coming to medicine just as improvement and safety initiatives are in the spotlight, Duncan says. She calls todays crop of future professionals citizens of the improvement community.
Christine Lui, a nursing and health systems leadership graduate student at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing, leads an Open School student chapter on her campus. The group has 40 members including medical and nursing students, with some faculty serving as mentors, Lui says. It meets once a month to disseminate information and determine the topics they want to focus on quarterly.
The emphasis is on cross-disciplinary collaboration, Lui says. Students are receiving medical training based on the discipline theyve chosen, but when professionals are working together in the hospital setting, they might not be aware of the different approaches each member of the team takes, Lui says. The Open School helps to encourage communication across professions and bridges that gap. It teaches students what to look for, she says. You start opening up that dialogue.
In January, the Open School received $750,000 in funding from Kaiser Permanente to help it develop over the next three years. The goal is to embed quality and safety thinking in the early stages of medical education, says Donald Berwick, M.D., the IHIs president and CEO. The professional education system doesnt have it in it yet, he says.
Still, thats changing, especially as medical schools become more aware of the IHI program. With at least one state hospital association there has been a commitment made to work with the IHI Open School. The South Carolina Hospital Association wants to increase the access students have to tools and education forums, and it sees the Open School as one way to do that, says Rick Foster, M.D., who is senior vice president of quality and patient safety at the hospital association. The IHI brings a wealth of resources that can be of value.
Three universities in that statethe Medical University of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and Clemson Universitywill host chapters of the school composed of students and faculty champions to promote education about quality in schools at the same time they conduct more quality-related training in the field, Foster says. The chapters will expose students to teamwork and communication skills before they begin practicing clinically.
Its a two-way benefit, Foster says. Students will get a look at quality efforts in the field, and the field will see how the young professionals are implementing new interaction and communication methods, he says. The universities are conducting initial meetings now with the hope of beginning officially in the fall. In addition, the hospital association is reaching out to other university presidents and deans to ask them to pledge their support of the Open School concept.
Foster says that he sees the Open School as complementary to the work conducted in the official curriculum. Quality and safety are key components of care, and the IHIs resources can bring to bear some high-level topics back to the level of training. Besides, Foster adds, the IHI is tuned in to the different media through which todays students like to learn.
Theyre very cognizant of the generation theyre dealing with and using things like text messaging and YouTube to reach students, Foster says. Im just getting comfortable using e-mail.Submit a letter to the Modern Physician Reader Blog. Please include your name, title, company and hometown. Modern Physician reserves the right to edit all submissions.