Quality Education


Northwestern University's graduate program in healthcare quality and patient safety can be a valuable tool for hospitalists looking to meld clinical expertise with practice management skills.

So says Kevin O'Leary, MD, MS, thought to be the only hospitalist to earn the master's degree in the program's four-year history. "It's definitely important for somebody who wants to take any role in leading quality improvement (QI) either for their hospital medicine group or for the hospital," says Dr. O'Leary, associate chief of hospital medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "A traditional residency program does not prepare, really, any physician in any specialty to take a lead in quality improvement."

Dr. O'Leary graduated from the two-year, part-time program last summer. The program, led by co-directors Kevin B. Weiss, MD, MP, and Donna Woods, EdM, PhD, offers in-depth exposure for physicians taking a leadership role at their institutions. Dr. O'Leary says the program goes beyond the introductory level available at seminars or workshops. Courses in the track include lessons on risk assessment, error theories, the development of meaningful quality metrics, and the use of health information technology. Students interact with physicians, policy makers, and researchers.

The Feinberg School also offers a certification-level program, but because of logistical constraints, both the certification and master's degree tracks attract mostly Illinois physicians. Some out-of-state doctors have taken part in the program, and the school offers a faculty development program that is not limited to Chicago-area physicians. That is one area in which Dr. O'Leary hopes to see exponential growth in the coming years.

"We all realize we have the need to teach [QI] to our trainees and our residents," he adds. "Who are the faculty who are going to teach this? First you have to train the faculty to train the residents and the medical students."

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