Dartmouth Institute online MPH students and VA Quality Scholars Catherine Alexander (left) and Mary "Mimi" Pomerleau (right), feel that nursing leadership in QI is an untapped opportunity for the nursing profession.
A Passion for Quality Improvement Drives These Nurse Educators Turned Dartmouth Institute MPH Students
Longtime nurse educators —and Dartmouth Institute online MPH students—Catherine Alexander and Mary “Mimi” Pomerleau are both passionate advocates for quality improvement training in nursing curricula. Each feels strongly that nursing leadership in QI is an untapped opportunity for the nursing profession—and for our health care system as a whole.
“It’s the health care workers at the front line—including nurses—who need to be involved in improving how we deliver care. However, those voices aren’t always heard,” says Alexander, a post-doctoral fellow in the VA Quality Scholars Program, and author of a new research study in The Journal of Nursing Administration on authentic leadership behaviors among nurse executives.
“It is also not clear in the literature what leadership and QI skills should be taught to frontline health care workers,” she adds. “We’ve got a long way to go to integrate these skills at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level of education.”
As one step in this process, Alexander developed and chaired the first-ever national conference on leadership and quality improvement (QI) for the Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) initiative. The QSEN Institute was created in 2005 through funding by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation to integrate quality and safety competencies into nursing education. Held in October 2017, the conference, “Accelerating Change Through Positive Forms of Leadership,” brought together health care leaders from across the U.S. to address organizational and systems performance in health care organizations.
The next step is to work with QSEN on a national level to expand and integrate the QI/leadership ideas identified at the conference and build them into the QSEN competencies, Alexander says.
With a focus on nursing care in maternal child health, Pomerleau, a nurse manager at Tufts’ Medical Center Ambulatory OB/GYN, has spent much of her 30-year-plus career teaching and practicing quality improvement. Recently, she was awarded the Distinguished Professional Service Award from the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), the highest award bestowed by the association. Pomerleau was recognized for her contributions to the specialties of women’s health, obstetric and/or neonatal nursing. Her many accomplishments include helping to develop a new curriculum at the School of Nursing at the MGH Institute of Health Professions—one that established a new paradigm for rapid quality and safety curriculum integration in nursing schools.
“As a nurse, I’ve always asked how we can improve? How can we use knowledge to take better care of patients?” Pomerleau says.
Her passion for QI also led Pomerleau to complete a QI-focused post-doctoral fellowship in which she identified barriers to access to maternity care for female veterans, as well as priorities for improvement in care delivery at VA centers across the country.
Both Alexander and Pomerleau enrolled in Dartmouth’s online MPH program after completing fellowships with the VA Quality Scholars Program, which is designed to develop leaders in health care quality improvement. They both say that what they appreciate the most about their MPH education is the opportunity to work with individuals from a wide array of professional backgrounds who are equally focused on improving health care.
“The program has been a wonderful opportunity for me as a nurse to work together with physicians, teachers, consultants, and engineers. We all have very different perspectives on health care, but we’re all passionate about rethinking how we deliver care,” Alexander says.