The world of health care has always intrigued me, but completing the Health for America (HFA) fellowship (now at MedStar Health) brought me to a new universe that I could never have imagined. Entrepreneurship, innovation, and human-centered design thinking were aspects of strategic business planning that I never knew existed in public health.
During the 2013 summer fellowship, my co-fellows and I interviewed several individuals who were well-versed in pediatric asthma. From these interviews, we learned different perspectives about what made asthma management difficult for physicians, patients, caregivers, insurance companies, and app developers. All we had to do was simply listen.
The most memorable moment of the fellowship—and the moment this listening really came together—happened when we traveled to San Francisco and attended an IDEO workshop. IDEO designs products, services, and experiences by using a human-centered, innovative, and creative approach to improve people’s lives. It’s a mouthful, but it works. During the workshop, my co-fellows and I sat in a circle with colorful post-its to paint a clear picture of pediatric asthma with all of the information that we had gathered. We discussed the stakeholders we’d met and remembered their frustrations with asthma management:
Pharmacists who were so busy with customers that they didn’t have enough time to enroll patients in a new asthma app.
Patients who were not able to enroll themselves in the asthma app because they lacked computer access.
Patients who were using emergency rooms as regular doctor visits because the pediatrician’s office wasn’t open during the weekends.
Caregivers who were unsure how to administer medication because English was their second language and they did not understand the physician’s directions.
Furthermore, we tried to understand how all of these individuals were connected. In doing so, we realized that the system was failing these individuals.“Now what do we do?,” we asked ourselves. We brainstorm and we act.
That’s the joy of the HFA fellowship. You are able to dive in, create, and implement sustainable solutions. This work is valuable and the skills you gain are important—no matter where you take your career.
This fall, while enrolled in a course titled Operations Management in Healthcare, my student partner and I were consultants for a dermatology clinic. We were tasked with improving the phone triage process. In order to do this, we had to listen to the concerns of the operation managers, patient assistants, and patients to develop the best solution.
In a few days, I will be starting work at a local non-profit organization. A team of directors and I will be implementing environmental strategies to reduce underage drinking among youth who are showing signs of substance use. Once again, I will use the skills learned from HFA to ensure the success of these proposed interventions.
Work like this is endless; but at least I know that after completing the HFA fellowship, I am ready to embark on this journey. Apply for the 2017-18 Health for America at MedStar Health fellowship so that you can be ready too.
Abena Dakwahene recently completed her Master’s of Public Health degree, with a concentration in Health Policy and Management, at Boston University. Read all Alumni Voices posts here.