Brock University and McMaster University have teamed up with the Niagara Health System (NHS) to assist in health care improvement efforts across the NHS.
This summer, eight Brock community health sciences students are working with five students at the Niagara campus of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and five NHS managers and clinicians to better patient care at different sites throughout the region’s health system.
The endeavour, called I-EQUIP – Interprofessional Education for Quality Improvement – is part of a new initiative developed jointly by the two universities. The point is to give the students the chance to apply what they’re learning in the classroom.
The pilot fills an education gap that exists for future health care professionals when it comes to understanding how health care systems function, and what it means to clinical practice and patients, explained Madelyn Law, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Brock.
“You need to understand what quality health care is and how to achieve that, and how to be the impetus for improvement,” Law said.
Talk of an applied learning experience started last winter. The opportunity for students to put their knowledge to the test with the NHS was particularly timely because each hospital has had to implement quality improvement plans in accordance with the province’s Excellent Care for All Act, which came into effect in 2010.
The students are working with the NHS this summer to create site-specific projects that will be rolled out this fall in ways that will enable staff to carry on with them. The outcomes will be presented at a symposium in the spring of 2013.
“The vision is that the health workforce of the future will identify problems, create answers and study the effectiveness of those solutions,” said Dr. Karl Stobbe, assistant regional dean of the medical school’s Niagara campus. “This project has a lot of potential for major impact, but it will take time.”
The hope is that future students will also continue the work started by their predecessors or find new ways to improve care.
“We are extremely excited to be partners in this initiative,” said Sue Matthews, NHS interim president and CEO. “Our collaboration with the universities leads to great opportunities for students, and great learning and knowledge transfer that helps us improve patient care.”
Gina Fleming, a pharmacist with the NHS who’s working with the students, echoed Matthews’ sentiments.
“Definitely, it’s fresh perspective. They have the expertise and the research part of things,” Fleming said.
The program could expand beyond improving acute care to tweaking primary care, long-term care or public health departments, Law explained.
“We know that patient care and services could be improved across the spectrum,” she said.
The experience also provides students with “a huge leverage point” to launch their careers in health care, Law added.
“The great thing about I-EQUIP is that we are able to use what we have learned from our coursework and translate that into practical solutions to improve healthcare delivery in Niagara,” said Rob Smith, a third year Brock health sciences student.
Others see it as a way to return the favour for the learning opportunities provided by the health system.
“As medical students we rely on a lot of time and support from the hospital staff and the patients in the region so I feel like this project is a great way to try to give and give back to the health system,” said Ted Maloney, a McMaster MD candidate, Class of 2014.
Law said she only sees the program – and student interest in it – growing as word about the experience it provides spreads.
“I have a feeling next year we’ll have a lot of students hearing about it and wanting to be part of it.”