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The role of quality improvement professionals continues to evolve, and that means career advancement will depend on having the right training and credentials. Patient safety is becoming an increasingly important focus, and leadership skills will always be in demand.
Careers in quality improvement took off in the 1990s when the government started paying more attention to quality issues, and a similar change is happening now with patient safety, says Angela Rafizadeh, CPHQ, MS, BSN, director of standards and performance improvement at Tuality Community Hospital in Hillsboro, OR.
“In the past year I’ve started noticing all these job openings in patient safety. It’s popping out,” she says. “That seems to be the direction the field is heading in terms of career opportunities — the possibilities beyond the quality improvement issues that many of us have been building on for years now.”
Six years ago, Rafizadeh was one of the first to pursue a master of science in patient safety leadership at the University of Illinois, and now that same program is exploding in popularity, she says. The Certification Board for Professionals in Patient Safety also offers certification in this area.
“There is so much someone with a quality background can do in the area of patient safety,” she says.
“For people who want to advance in quality, it would be a really good idea to get a master’s degree in some kind of patient safety program. There used to be only a few programs, but now they are becoming much more numerous.”
Expertise in statistics is another priority because big data is becoming so prevalent in all areas of quality improvement, Rafizadeh says.
Careers in quality can be stymied by a lack of understanding about what the field is all about, she adds.
Rafizadeh has seen many nurses assume that they can move into quality improvement easily because they have experience in nursing and see quality improvement as a variation on that.
“It doesn’t work out that well. I see a lot of people come to quality thinking it’s one branch of nursing or another aspect of healthcare, but it’s really about critical thinking,” she says.
“You’re constantly prioritizing things, changing hats every five or 10 minutes, and your goals are always changing. That drives a lot of people crazy, so you have to have the personality that thrives on multitasking like that.”
Adding Lean Six Sigma training and certification is a good career move, suggests Patrice L. Spath, MA, RHIT, a consultant in healthcare quality and resource management with Brown-Spath & Associates in Forest Grove, OR.
Project management skills also would prove useful for many of the initiatives in which quality improvement professionals are involved, she says.
“Formal project management training can expand the skill set of quality managers and broaden their career opportunities,” Spath says. “With increased emphasis on data analysis, quality managers should strengthen their data analytic skills. Various health information management programs provide this type of training.”
Rafizadeh also encourages quality professionals to obtain the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) credential from the National Association for Healthcare Quality.
She only obtained the CPHQ recently after working 20 years in the field, and she says it was helpful in bringing together the knowledge and skill sets she acquired from various facets of healthcare.
“It gives you a perspective on how these different parts of your experience come together and gives you a better understanding of what you can do as a quality professional,” she says.
“Even though I postponed it for 20 years, I now highly recommend it as an important step for anyone in quality,” she adds.
Quality leaders must remember that the “quality” part of the role is dependent on the second part, the leadership, says Brent Filson, founder of the Filson Leadership Group in Williamstown, MA, who has consulted with company executives worldwide to improve their leadership.
Leadership is critical to establishing quality improvement in all hospital areas, Filson says.
The trouble is many hospital professionals don’t recognize this, or if they do recognize it, he says, they misunderstand what leadership is all about.
“I’ve worked with thousands of leaders worldwide during the past 34 years, and I have discovered that nearly all of them don’t do as well as they could be doing in their careers because of this fatal misunderstanding,” Filson says. “Without good leadership, quality improvement stumbles.”
Leaders, especially those new to leadership positions and perhaps intimidated by the responsibility, often mistake authority for leadership, Filson says. They tend to declare goals and insist that the hospital get there, but they should motivate people instead.
“Authority is a poor excuse for leadership. Rather than telling people to go from point A to point B, your goal should be to have people wanting to go from point A to point B,” Filson says.
“That difference may seem minor, but when you multiply that in the many interactions the leader has during the day, that leader is going to have a much better job performance and a much better career.”
Filson uses the example of handwashing, a priority in any quality improvement program. Rather than simply declaring a standard and insisting that clinicians meet it, Filson says better results will come from creating a culture in which people want to comply with handwashing expectations.
“The difference in outcomes will be tremendous among people who are being ordered to wash their hands and people who are motivated to not only hand-wash, but who are taking leadership roles themselves and encouraging others to hand-wash,” he says.
“Too many times administrators see handwashing as a compliance issue, but it’s not that as much as it is a leadership issue. Once you realize that, your whole focus changes and you get better results.”
Financial Disclosure: Author Greg Freeman, Editor Jesse Saffron, Editor Jill Drachenberg, Nurse Planner Jill Winkler, Editorial Group Manager Terrey L. Hatcher, and Consulting Editor Patrice Spath report no consultant, stockholder, speakers bureau, research, or other financial relationships with companies having ties to this field of study.