Creating excellent patient outcomes through leadership in education

At St. Michael’s Hospital, our approach to education is founded on the belief that everyone in the hospital is a student and everyone is a teacher. It is both as simple and as complex as that.

Traditionally, at St. Michael’s, as in most teaching hospitals, education was regarded as the part of the organization that dealt with learners from medicine and nursing. Over time, other students from health disciplines became part of our educational programming. But for a while, there was little more.

Our recent education journey started in 2007 when our strategic plan recognized that education at St. Michael’s should be much broader. It would include the student experience and also continuing education and professional development for our staff and physicians and more recently, patient and family education.

As all things academic are at St. Michael’s, our vision is not just about excellence in education but about creating “excellent patient outcomes through leadership” in education.

While the audiences that we deal with are complex and different, what we quickly realized is that the core educational competencies are similar. We need to develop capabilities and capacity in the tools, approaches and resources required to build education programs for all types of learning regardless of the student/learner population.

For example, building expertise in e-learning supports both for staff within the hospital, patients and families who are either in the hospital or at home, and faculty who are developing their research or teaching skills.

With the student experience, we decided we wanted to engage the students fully – and not just the medical, nursing and health disciplines students – all students who come into the organization. We want to create both informal and formal learning opportunities. When we created the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, we built informal gathering places where students could meet and share ideas.

In creating the best placement experience, we started right at the beginning by streamlining the registration experience and orientation. We want students to be part of our culture right from the beginning so that some will stay here to work or even, give back.

In the next year, we will have a student council for those who are here on placements and we are working on a student engagement survey tool that will be piloted at St. Michael’s and eventually used in all of the institutions in the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network.

In the area of continuing education and professional development, we started with an internal and external environmental scan to determine what is already happening at St. Michael’s and what are the learning needs of our physicians and staff.

In this area, our goal is to improve the quality of the work being done – to develop the infrastructure to help people learn and teach each other. We are looking at tools to help with curriculum development, evidence-based approaches to adult learning, and ways to evaluate and share knowledge effectively.

Technology will be an important part of this work. When the “students” are working 24/7, you need to make education convenient and accessible. Technology-based learning can do that very effectively.

Which brings us to the final component of our work – patient and family education. To some, this seems a more unlikely part of an academic education portfolio but we believe that patient and families are both students and teachers too.

We have just opened a new patient and family learning centre that offers patients and families a wide range of resources and staff to help them find what they need. We are also working with staff and physicians to help them develop their patient education skills so that they are better teachers at the bedside and in our clinics.

We also provide an electronic patient education data base via our web site, called Krames. We are the first Canadian hospital to use this on-line tool that was developed by a U.S. company in collaboration with the Harvard teaching hospitals. There are more than 3,000 topics covered in up to eight languages each. Early feedback is that the information is helpful and simple to understand.

There is no question that our education journey is in its early days. We have launched the three pillars of our portfolio: student experience, continuing education/professional development and patient and family learning but there is still much work to be done if we are to realize the potential we believe is available to us. And after all, in an organization dedicated to life-long learning, the journey will really never complete.