Curing Healthcare: An Inside Job
With its dire need for improvement in patient safety, error reduction, efficiency and cost control, healthcare seems ripe for quality principles and tools. That’s why I suggested in a previous column (September 2004) that quality professionals should consider the field as a career path.
The suggestion prompted letters from several readers saying it’s difficult to obtain a job in healthcare if you don’t have M.D. or RN (for registered nurse) after your name. We posted the letters on the QP Discussion Board, where they generated lively responses. (The discussion board is a good place for ASQ members to read—and add to—insights and experiences from others in quality. Go to www.asq.org/discussionboards/forum.jspa?forumID=2.)
Some board participants agreed a lack of medical training or background was a barrier to entering the field. But others, such as Will LaFollette of Mount Horeb, WI, had more positive experiences to share. That led to the article on p. 30 of this issue about how LaFollette and his quality colleagues are facilitating improvement at Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. All five have “traditional” quality backgrounds—they didn’t start out in healthcare.
“While I would like to find somebody with a quality background plus experience in the healthcare field, this is a fairly rare combination,” said Bob Dums, director of systems and processes at Marshfield. He added that management recognized quality techniques are relatively new for healthcare but are well known in other industries, so it had no qualms about hiring quality practitioners with no healthcare experience.
A similar transition recently played out for Mike Crossen, creator of the “Mr. Pareto Head” comic (p. 10), except he forged it on his own. “I noticed a change in the landscape: ASQ section meetings and publications were gradually including more topics related to healthcare,” Crossen said. “I introduced myself to some healthcare professionals and formed a relationship where we discussed how quality tools used in manufacturing settings can also be used to reduce errors and improve processes in hospitals.
“At some point, an opportunity presented itself for me to practice what I preach,” he continued. “After 27 years in engineering/manufacturing, I made the choice to move on. It was tough in some regards. I worked for a world-class organization, and the people were great. But I don’t regret it, especially since my new employer is a world-class organization with great people, too. And the customer is a bit closer than before.”
These examples of quality professionals gaining ground in new fields are few and anecdotal to date; it would be a stretch to say they harbinger a breakthrough. But as with quality itself, most successes come from continual, incremental improvements building on previous ones. Eventually they add up to measurable results and benefits.