Spencer Cahoon: Engaging Students in Communities of Excellence

The American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  This quote has never meant more to me than when I first heard Lowell Kruse speak about Communities of Excellence.  I was in a room packed full of Masters of Healthcare Administration students, and each of us was captivated by the idea of applying an excellence framework at the community level.  Indeed, it isn’t the US government, or the the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for that matter, who are going to make America great again!  What we need are communities that are more united and communities that work smarter than ever before and this begins with students.  I believe that training in Baldrige and Communities of Excellence, along with mentorship and opportunities for practical application, will impassion the rising generations to foster this important work.

As a Kruse Scholar, my personal training began last March with a Baldrige: 101 course.  The entire day was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of Baldrige, including a detailed walk through of the framework’s seven categories.  I also met Brain Lassiter, the president of Performance Excellence Network, and someone I consider to be an outstanding student mentor. 

The timing for this Baldrige training was perfect.  It was the second semester in my Masters of Healthcare Administration program, and I had just started the CLARION case competition with a team composed of pharmacy, dental and MHA students.  Our task was to collaboratively find a way to reduce healthcare disparities among American Indians, and then to present our proposal to a panel of judges.  After we learned that more healthcare dollars per capita are spent on U.S. prisoners than for Native people, and that tooth decay makes American Indian children ashamed of their smiles, we knew we needed to develop and propose a system that looks much different that what exists today.  It only made sense to begin this redesign using the principles of Baldrige.

Through interviews and extensive research, we conducted an organizational profile analysis of the Sioux Nation.  Brian Lassiter also connected us with the Southcentral Foundation, an Alaska Native owned healthcare system and winner of Baldrige in 2011.  The people at Southcentral provided insight into their excellence journey, including the importance of strategic development, building relationships with customers, and engaging employees to achieve high performance work.  We took this knowledge, added what we had learned about information management, operations, and measuring outcomes, and our CLARION team put together a healthcare initiative we called “HEAL.”  Our recommendations included marrying native traditions with modern medicine, utilizing patient centered medical home clinics, improving access through means such as mobile clinics and telemedicine, and establishing a healthcare system that is owned and operated by Native people.  We were thrilled to see our proposal come in first place at the local competition!  As I reflect on the experience, I am grateful to more fully understand Baldrige because I was able to apply the principles in a very meaningful way. 

I believe that training students in Baldrige and Communities of Excellence, followed by mentored guidance and opportunities to apply the principles, will provide upcoming leaders with the tools and passion to truly make America great again.  The Kruse Scholars are evidence that terrific work is being done with students, but we can do more!  In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  What will you do to help students catch the vision of Communities of Excellence?

*Learn more about Spencer Cahoon here

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