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New Healthcare Quality and Safety Programs point providers toward safer tomorrow

“People always want to do their best. They don’t want to hurt anyone,” says Bob Brigham, DBA, one of Jacksonville University’s newest Healthcare Quality and Safety (HQS) Programs adjunct professors. Yet the amount of medical errors in this country is staggering. Though the actual numbers of people who die annually from medical mistakes are debated — anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 — it still ranks as the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. 

For the past two decades, a shift towards greater patient safety and healthcare quality has become paramount in the healthcare system. As this momentum continues, an emerging field of healthcare quality and safety professionals seeks to improve health outcomes by expanding their knowledge. The University’s new HQS Programs will provide that innovative, interprofessional learning experience they seek.

Bob Brigham
Bob Brigham

“To undertake a master’s degree level of understanding in healthcare quality and safety is a rare thing now,” Brigham says. “I believe it will be an important contribution to our healthcare system.”

Brigham’s insight is rooted in tremendous experience — he spent 37 years at the world-class Mayo Clinic, ending his career there as Chief Administrative Officer for the Mayo Clinic in Florida. 

The HQS Programs, which include a Master of Science in Healthcare Quality and Safety and Post-Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Quality and Safety, are among only 17 such programs in North America.

“JU is truly a champion of healthcare quality and safety,” said Brigham. “For this relatively small school to be recognized with this elite company of other larger schools in this emerging space is a meaningful sign of the organization’s commitment to the healthcare field.”

And as one of the 12 founding HQS schools working with the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) to develop industry standards for healthcare quality and safety accreditation, Jacksonville University is certainly leading the pack. 

A Thirst for Knowledge

It’s that thirst for knowledge in her field that led St. Vincent’s Infection Preventionist Laurie Stewart Mai to Jacksonville University.

“After I got my BSN, I always thought about getting my masters in nursing, but it just really didn’t appeal to me,” said Mai, who has worked as a trauma nurse, school nurse, and both as a diabetes and nurse educator. “I thought of some other avenues to get a masters, including an MBA, and then it just went to the back burner until I heard about JU’s Masters in Healthcare Quality and Safety. It just fit very well with my job and simply excited me to learn about all the things I’m really passionate about.” 

Mai began classes in January. The all online format helps her juggle school and her job, which varies from day to day and can include long hours. 

Simulating patient care with manikins

“Online learning is wonderful,” she enthused. “You can do it from anywhere and at any time, which makes it so convenient. Driving to a campus would just be too much for a busy professional.”

Despite having to go to school in the evenings and on weekends, she stresses that the coursework is manageable.

“The homework is very doable and there’s flexibility with your schedule especially if you communicate with your professors about occasional conflicts.” 

Being technologically savvy isn’t a requirement either.

“We have tremendous resources at JU to support online teaching,” Brigham says.

“It’s so user friendly. There’s always that concern about being able to login, but it was easy to get on and find my classroom,” Mai says. “There’s a helpdesk that’s always available. It’s easy and low stress.”

In just the few weeks after she began the program, Mai is already impressed. She has been most surprised by how quickly she’s gained knowledge she can use at her job.

“I really wasn’t expecting things I was learning in my coursework to be so pertinent in my day-to-day job,” she said. “And I’ve also observed those practices I’m reading about in our quality meeting with our upper level management. It’s very motivating to see those connections between theory and practice.”

Wealth of Experience

With 40 years in healthcare, Brigham is experienced at bridging the gap between theory and practice, an asset he’ll bring to his class, Healthcare Leadership and Advanced Roles, this fall.

“The role of a leader at any level in healthcare is to stay close to the clinical practice; you can’t manage healthcare without being close to those who give care,” he says. “Leadership today demands mastery of the fundamental skills to motivate people to effect positive change in the healthcare system. The course will provide the students with theory blended with skill building and case studies — real examples with best practices — they can use in their work.” 

A dominant theme in his coursework is the idea of employee engagement — ensuring employees feel like they’re contributing to the business; that they are valued. That sense of connection greatly improves the quality of their work.

“In healthcare, there is not a typical commercial product. What employees do for patients is the product and determines the organization’s brand,” Brigham says. “So what employees do matters tremendously. As a leader, how do you leverage the passion and skills of your caregivers?”

To teach his class, Brigham will draw on his broad base of experience. He began his career as a nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — Mayo’s first and largest campus — and worked his way up from nursing manager to operating room director to nursing director into assistant administrator, administrator, and chief administrator roles.

“At Mayo, there is a real focus on quality, safety, patient satisfaction, and employee engagement,” Brigham says. “It’s the environment I grew up in. When Mayo came to Jacksonville, all of North Florida’s healthcare systems worked together for quality and safety. It was essential and it paid huge dividends.”  

When Brigham retired, he knew he wanted to use his experience to support academics. Mayo Clinic already had a long-standing relationship with Jacksonville University. Plus, he’s always been a big fan of the University, where his daughter earned her BSN and his son his MBA. He also furthered his own education at JU receiving his MBA and DBA, focusing on leadership and organizational theory in healthcare. Then he met Dr. Christine Sapienza, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Teri Chenot, Associate Professor of Nursing​, Department Chair for the HQS Programs, and Director of the Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) Institute Regional Center at JU.

“They were passionate about their work in healthcare. And so engaged and at the table in what’s new and innovative in healthcare,” Brigham says.

Teaching at JU became an easy choice.

Looking to the Future

Mai is looking to Brigham and all her other professors to help her continue to enhance the organization she works for. When asked what she plans to do with her degree, she is very hopeful for the future of her hospital and her role in that.

“I know it will certainly make me a better infection preventionist and give me more credibility. The more experts we have in this field, that our leadership defers to, the better our organization,” she said. “I’m looking to be a real asset to our hospital, to the many programs and initiatives we’re working on to become a high reliability organization, and a safe and effective hospital. Already my infection prevention team is saying I’d be really great on this quality team within the organization.”

As for the road ahead to attaining her degree, Mai says she never tires of reading more about something she’s passionate about. She continues to look forward to the online discussions that are part of her weekly assignments.

“I learn so much from these discussions,” she said. “We discuss a range of topics between students and our professor, Dr. Kavanaugh. I just love the interaction.”

“I can’t say enough about this cutting-edge university here in our city of Jacksonville that offers this incredibly innovative degree program. I know I’ll never regret this decision!”

By Thatiana Lott