In our Stroke Landscape Analysis, our very first HFA deliverable as a team, the fellows and I borrowed a quote from Charles Darwin who said, “It is necessary to look forward to a harvest, however distant that may be, when some fruit will be reaped, some good effected.” Darwin wrote these words two days before his voyage on the HMS Beagle ended, and I thought it would be apt to reflect on these very same words as I conclude my own 11-month journey.
I remember starting the fellowship back in September and not knowing exactly what to expect. I had just wrapped up my Teach for America commitment in the South Bronx, where I taught high school science for two years. I had also just completed my master’s degree in education. I found myself asking questions like: Are my teaching skills going to be useful throughout the fellowship? Will I get along with my teammates? Can we actually come up with a solution for stroke care?
My concerns were ultimately put to rest. My experiences as an inner-city teacher proved to be useful in many unexpected ways, as I detailed in my June blog post. While my teammates and I entered the fellowship from different backgrounds, we managed to be productive and stay engaged in our work. We trusted each other’s skills and respected each other’s perspectives. Even though we had disagreements and moments of friction, we bounced back and demonstrated emotional resilience and maturity. Finally, we developed and successfully piloted not one but two new solutions to improve stroke care. The KnightCap pilot ultimately aimed to address the wake-up stroke problem by validating and refining its innovative EEG technology. The Galva pilot improved the hospital-to-home transition using personalized discharge kits and a novel take on patient education and experience.
Looking back, there were many memorable moments that I will take with me after the fellowship. I remember the time when Katia and I were laminating hundreds of flashcards for our discharge kits. To avoid paying for pricey services at a printing shop, we bought a portable laminating machine online. Unfortunately, the machine exuded fumes that I unavoidably inhaled while laminating. It actually got to a point where I got a headache that lasted 24 hours! Overall, the takeaway from this experience was the spirit with which we innovated during that stage in our fellowship. Katia and I really had to “think lean” and find ways to be resourceful, efficient, and cost-effective. We bootstrapped our prototypes with the time and resources available and delivered a quality service to our users.
Another memorable moment was when my teammates and I were preparing for our final presentations. We consolidated our pilot data and scheduled meetings with our clinical stakeholders, many of whom are top leaders in the MedStar Health community. Personally, it was such a humbling experience which reminded us of the privilege it is to be surrounded by welcoming and supportive clinical mentors. At the end of our presentation of Galva, I shared a quote from Dr. Mark Smith, Chief Innovation Officer of MedStar Health and the executive sponsor of HFA:
"The great thing about innovation is that it is a fundamentally optimistic bet on the future. It has a premise that there is always a better way. It's very exciting to try to discover those better ways. In fact, I try to avoid the term 'best practice' because best practice really is best practice for the time being. It is 'better practice' because there will always be, down the line, a better way of doing everything that we're doing right now."
This quote struck a personal chord because it crystallized my whole experience as an HFA fellow and reminded me of why we all need to value innovation. It also galvanized a newfound passion in design thinking and solidified my convictions about pursuing a career in medicine and entrepreneurship, specifically in the fields of health education and patient experience. Even though the fellowship has drawn to a close, I will carry with me skills and experiences that will equip me to continue innovating in spaces beyond stroke care. While I have a long ways to go before I reach my dream of becoming a physician innovator and thought leader on mental health, I am optimistic about the future and look forward to the new harvests that await me.
In case you've missed the reflections of the other 2016-17 fellows, you can read them here. There's one more reflection coming soon, then we hope you'll join us in welcoming the 2017-18 fellows in just a few short weeks!