Dr. John Young, a health care quality practitioner, strategist and faculty member of the George Washington University’s (GW) online Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) in Health Care Quality, provides information on the industry and career insights for prospective students.
How did you enter the health care field, and what led you down this career path?
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I was always fascinated by the scenario of people specifically requesting not to be taken to a certain hospital in a low-income neighborhood because the quality of care there was perceived as poor. I was also very interested in learning about the role of the hospital administrator and how to drive improvement activities within a hospital system. So, my career began in Chicago, IL at Provident Hospital, part of the Cook County Health System.
Conceptually, I understood that patients and consumers valued high quality care, but I really didn’t begin to fully grasp the discipline of health care quality until I began working in federal government. I worked at the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services for about 11 years in various technical and leadership roles. My first job in health care quality was as an epidemiologist where I was responsible for identifying physician-based quality measure topics for Medicare and negotiating with public and private entities about which clinical quality care measures to develop and implement nationally.
Subsequently, I helped to lead national health care quality in State Medicaid and CHIP programs as a technical director for the federal government. It was a fascinating position because I worked with all 50 states and U.S. territories to study and evaluate the uniqueness and complexity of their quality improvement problems and assist with collecting and analyzing quality metric data. This led to further work in the field, including consulting and working as a director of performance and value in a large oncology association. I’ve been fortunate in that my career has afforded me relevant practical and leadership opportunites in both government and private sector health care quality initiatives.
How have you been able to apply your professional experience to the classroom environment?
My professional experience has been essential in that it closely aligns to the curriculum at GW and the classes I teach. On a weekly basis, I’m able to engage students in in-depth discussions on current health care policy and care delivery topics through our online and hybrid courses. Students are particularly interested in my government work; they want to understand my role implementing provisions of the Affordable Care Act and about my experience with implementing value-based payment models and the full lifecycle of clinical quality measurement. I also try to align classwork with current government quality initiatives to give more depth and insight into what quality strategy means from a practical perspective.
What are some of the challenges facing the health care industry today?
There are four issues I think are most challenging for our industry today. The first is the uncertainty with health care reform and what quality means in a fragmented health care system. I think our government and health system leaders have articulated the importance of health care quality, as the discipline is emerging as the foundation of new value-based payment models. Certainty, health reform that improves value would be welcome by practitioners and patients alike.
The second thing that is really challenging is the proliferation of emerging technologies and data. We have troves of data in health care, enabled by technology, and the current challenge is not only what to do with the data, but what predictive insights we can glean from it. Many organizations have problems with collecting, curating, analyzing, and reporting data with intent and purpose. So, if we can figure out how to harness all the unstructured and structured data in a meaningful way, it should facilitate learning systems that ultimately improve patient care.
Third is the health care workforce: With an aging population, the complexity of health care data, and shifting demographics, how do we educate health care quality professionals and leaders in a way that reflects the delivery of 21st century medicine? And I’m not suggesting precision medicine as we are not there yet. But smart medicine and health care that is safe, equitable, efficient, timely, and patient-centered.
Lastly, the challenges of implementing and sustaining large-scale change initiatives and improvements at the system level remain an enigma and ultimately pose a threat to fostering a culture of quality and safety. We have to do a better job of disseminating proven best practices that are replicable across geography and people.
What is one thing that current students might be surprised to learn about the industry?
Patient adherance. Based on information that’s disseminated by health care organizations and the government, there’s a new health care information economy emerging where patients must be able to understand and use the information that’s in front of them. We’re rapidly moving towards a system where patients must be much more knowledgeable about their own care and be able to engage in a system in which they are compliant.
In health care, we focus a lot on stakeholders, such as health plans, physicians, or government. But the most surprising development may be the emergence of the patient as a key stakeholder in a transforming health care system. While patients absolutely must be active and informed participants in their health and healthcare, they also require access to information resources about their health, the health of their family and surrounding community, and the insurance and social system that impacts their wellbeing. Also, researchers and care delivery systems are exploring novel practices to meaningfully engage patients in quality measurement that takes into account their preferences and values. So informed and shared decision making that supports compliance is emerging as a game changer in the industry.
What are the job opportunities in Health Care Quality? What type of educational or professional background would be beneficial to someone looking to enter this field?
Students often think that the job opportunities in health care quality are primarly for clinicians. Of course while many jobs are, there are ample opportunities available for non-clinicians — for example, roles like performance improvement lead, risk manager, VP of quality and safety, quality training and coaching, and process improvement consultant are available to clinicans and non-clinicians alike. And let’s not forget the the role of data scientist, which by all indications is difficult to fill because of the abundance of positions available and the corresponding dearth of trained “data evangelists.”
Health care quality is an interdisciplinary discipline. While we offer a master’s program at GW as the optimal path to a successful career in health care quality, I think professionals and students will be well-positioned to thrive in a quality career if they have the knowledge and skills employers are seeking. This includes process improvement methods, research skills including biostatistics and epidemiology, economics, and leadership.
I often advise a student who is transitioning into health care quality from another career that one of the key areas for education and training is in data analytics; while it’s not fully what we do, the skill is at the core of what we do. To succeed, you also need to be able to lead others and work in cross-disciplinary teams made up of professionally and culturally diverse people.
How does GW’s Health Care Quality curriculum prepare students to advance in the field?
The people — our faculty, staff, and leadership — are the foundation of our program. It’s what sets our program apart. Not only are they renowned leaders in the field, but we also have a yearly retreat where we examine and refine our curriculum to ensure we include key competencies that employers desire from our students. We believe we understand which skills and knowledge employers are looking for in the next generation of health care quality professionals.
Whether it’s improvement in science, leadership, understanding data management, patient safety, leadership, or the full lifecycle of clinical quality improvement, our students are able to apply what they’re taught immediately in the field. In addition, we also leverage our strategic location in the nation’s capital. We have access to many organizations in government, private industry, and even journalism to help better inform our students. This is where national health care policy is being made, and it’s an advantage for our program to be based in D.C..
In your opinion, what sets GW’s Health Care Quality program apart from similar programs?
We emphasize thinking critically about the issues in health care quality and providing students with the resources and opportunities to access professionals within the industry. This allows them to begin to think more in-depth about issues they may encounter in health care as a whole and specifically in health care quality. We have the ability to tap into a broad network of health care quality professionals and thought leaders — we want to be able to have our students glean knowledge from them.
What advice would you give to current students or alumni?
Two things: Health care organizations are clamoring for professionals who can apply the intricacies and tools that are part of a health care quality curriculum such as what we offer here at GW. We encourage our graduates to continue to immerse themselves in the discipline. You have to jump in with both feet. It’s a complex, dynamic and ever-changing discipline, and you have to continue to learn and practice the discipline of health care quality.
The second thing I would offer is to never stop envisioning where you want to go and who you want to be in health care. Students should prepare for the next several years of what might evolve within the health care industry as well. The uncertainty in health reform is obvious, but I believe there are tremendous opportunities for our students and alumni who have gone through the program to be local, state, national and international leaders in health care quality.
For more information on the George Washington University’s online Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) in Health Care Quality, contact an admissions advisor today at (844) 386-7323 or click here to request more information.