Posted by Todd Theresa on September 15, 2016
When someone in the healthcare world says she is a doctor, a nurse or medical assistant, her role is immediately understood. We have an ingrained understanding of what these roles encompass. When I tell others what I do, I’m usually greeted with looks of confusion.
Here is a typical scenario:
New person: “So what do you do?’
Me: “I’m a quality improvement coordinator. I help kids and young adults who have Inflammatory Bowel disease.
NP: “So you’re a nurse?”
Me: “No, I’m not a clinician, but I have a public health background.”
NP: “So you work with quality assurance?”
Me: “No, not exactly.”
NP: “Oh, so you work in administration.”
Me: “No, not really”
NP: (inevitable look of confusion): “So what exactly do you do?”
My responses vary: “I help those who help kids and young adults with IBD get and stay better.” Or, “I use patient information to help guide how doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals care for kids and young adults with IBD.” At this point of the conversation, I may get a tentative nod and then we move on to the weather.
I often work behind the scenes creating more effective processes, poring over medical charts, and making patient data easier to utilize and interpret for the IBD clinicians at my center. This work is important and I want to be able to build understanding about it when I find myself in a situation where I am explaining it. So I decided to take the elevator pitch approach – or the art of presenting something in the time it takes to ride an elevator (around 30 seconds). But I needed an even more succinct explanation, ideally one sentence.
The first thing I did was write down every task I do in a typical month. That didn’t help clarify much because my duties for the IBD Center at Nicklaus Children’s and as a part of ImproveCareNow run the gamut: data analysis, meetings management, patients and parents interactions, flow chart creation, etc.
Then I tried looking at it from the perspective of those whom I serve: the children and young adults with IBD at my center. I made a rough list identifying all the many things that touch their lives, including:
The list goes on. This exercise helped me focus on the many different areas that my work may impact (and further drove home the fact that life with a chronic illness is complex), and then it dawned upon me: I’m an improvement wingman.
A wingman, according to Merriam-Webster, is: “a pilot or airplane that flies behind and outside the leader of a group of airplanes in order to provide support or protection.” So while I don’t provide direct care to our patients, I support those who do. In addition, I provide assistance to everyone wishing to improve the health outcomes of the patients we serve: the patients themselves, their parents, doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, administrative staff, etc.
So now when I'm asked about what I do, I can say: “I am an IBD quality improvement coordinator, an improvement wingman who helps everyone make care better for the patients I serve."
Theresa Todd, MPH, MA
Quality Improvement Analyst
Nicklaus Children’s Hospital