Physicians devote a large portion of their lives to education — the road to medical school is a long one, and learning does not end when they earn their diplomas. Although health care organizations, including hospitals, commonly are regarded as places of treatment more than training, a great deal of both goes on in them.
This is especially true at Sioux Valley Health System, which was renamed Sanford Health in February, when T. Denny Sanford donated $400 million to the health care organization.
Sanford Health spans four states (South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota) and employs about 10,000. It is the largest medical facility in the region, providing myriad health care services. Sanford Health’s Center for Learning & Innovation is responsible for educating the entire workforce, as well as developing training opportunities for specific subsets such as nurses.
All the center’s initiatives, however, center on the simple idea that you never stop learning, said Diana VanderWoude, director of the Center for Learning & Innovation.
“Our learning philosophy is about advancing human potential, innovation and transformation through collaborative learning and development,” she said. “We really view ourselves as everlasting beginners. We view excellence not as a permanent state, so we’re ever-evolving, and we’re always becoming as humans.
According to Mark Moir, manager of organizational development at the Center for Learning & Innovation, the learning and development process is as important as the results.
“We really try to take the approach of exploration and discovery,” he said. “In a sense, we feel like that’s where the wisdom lies. We really try to approach things from a very open sense and a sense of partnership. It becomes much less prescriptive and much more collaborative in nature.”
It is in this spirit of collaboration that the center has tackled leadership development across the health system, which is a strategically key population, VanderWoude said.
“Several years ago, with the emergence of our leadership development philosophy, the trend around the country was to keep disciplines separate, to have a physician leadership development effort, to have nursing separate, to have different managing groups separate from one another,” she said. “We just felt that if we’re going to practice in an interdisciplinary way, we need to learn in an interdisciplinary way. That was a key foundational piece to where we are today. We ensure there are multiple angles and visions in the rooms, engaging in collaborative inquiry.”
Additionally, VanderWoude said this emphasis on collaboration helps employees recognize and better understand the long-term effects present decisions might have.
“They’re understanding the second- and third-ripple effects of decisions that are made that maybe they understood only the first ripple before,” she said. “When I think about some of those critical decisions that you make in the design of your learning effort, approaching it in that way has had extremely positive consequences for us.”
To support this and other initiatives, the center uses e-learning, as well as internally developed courses and self-paced learning materials. It also offers a “ManageMentor” series through Harvard Business School Publishing, which is available to various management populations and is integrated into the curriculum.
VanderWoude said all the learning activities and programs at Sanford Health are subjected to vigorous examination to ensure they meet the needs of specific audiences and that they are developed accordingly.
“What we really look at is, ‘What is the intent of the learning activity?’” she said. “And when we look at some of the deep learning necessary in some of our professional development activities, we really believe that requires a different level of engagement than what one can get from straight e-learning programs.”
The very nature of health care and the medical profession sometimes presents challenges collaborative learning, Moir said, because these groups of peers tend to regard themselves as cordoned off, and “outsiders” share the sentiment.
“When you think about health care, there’s such a high level of specialization — we kind of treat doctors, for example, as a homogeneous kind of group in a sense, but it’s not,” he said. “There are so many differentiations within specializations within even that population alone, so when you talk about organizational challenges, and you try to make inroads in human relationship, you have to strip away the notion of ‘physician,’ so that you have people interacting human to human, in a sense.”
When training potential and actual organizational leaders, Moir said underscoring that “human” aspect is especially important.
“From a leadership-development perspective, we’ve tried to intentionally to do that by bringing diversity into a room and getting a sense of where people are connecting at a real human level,” he said.
Just as they emphasize the importance of communication during learning programs and activities among different groups, Moir and VanderWoude said they encourage learners to tell them what they did and did not like during learning initiatives.
“We create a lot of feedback loops within our development efforts, and we use a number of methodologies for people to provide feedback,” VanderWoude said. “But it really begins in development, and I think we have within our team the rigor that we place in the type of people we hire and the credentials of those individuals within our learning center. Even within e-learning, we have a variety of quality-control checks that we engage in to assure that the quality of what we publish meets those standards.”
Further, VanderWoude said the success of Sanford Health’s learning and development programs depends on its learning and development staff members, who keep tabs on what needs to be done.
“To the best of our ability, we don’t want our curriculum and our development to be stale, so it’s constantly evolving and developing and being refreshed and bringing new ideas in,” VanderWoude. “It does require those individuals who are involved in learning and development here to have a very strong commitment to their own personal development. We have to live those beliefs and truly lead in the area of learning and development ourselves.”
Moir acknowledged it can be difficult to keep learning and development from going stale, but he also said it’s a good challenge for both the center and the entire Sanford Health organization.
“We’ve been tinkering with this idea of being organizational environmentalists lately, where we’re constantly surveying the ecology of thought and trying to get a sense of, from a sustainability perspective, where our risks collide,” he said. “We want to pay attention to the issues of culture and make sure we’re not becoming too slick and make sure we’re accommodating different viewpoints. I think there’s a real risk of becoming deluded with our individual and collective selves, so we want to make sure we’re staying fresh, we’re being real with ourselves.”
And as Sanford Health continues to grow, Moir said the Center for Learning & Innovation will continue to emphasize the importance of multiple perspectives and collaboration.
“It will be important for us to be able to integrate different views into the organization in a seamless and healthy way and be able to embrace conflict as really the fuel of progress will be important for us because we have a history that is very rich,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to maintain our ecological lens toward what we’re doing and making sure we’re sustainable.”
– Lisa Rummler, email@example.com
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