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From the Bedside to the Classroom: Kim Sears

[Kim Sears]Anyone who’s spent time in a hospital ward or emergency room knows it can be a chaotic environment. And anyone who’s read the news knows that health care workers sometimes make mistakes. The errors may derive from the number of patients they deal with, insufficient training, faulty equipment, or inadequate hospital systems and policies.

For the patient, the consequences of error can range from inconveniently long wait times to serious physical harm, even death. Doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators everywhere lose sleep over these issues, and all hospitals take measures to ensure that correct procedures are followed. So do schools that prepare health care professionals, whose job it is to instill the right knowledge, skill and ability so that they can provide the best care possible.

Remarkably, however, Queen’s is the only university in Canada to offer a stand-alone graduate-level program that focuses on how everyone working in health care – from administrators to front-line staff – can reduce risk and improve quality and safety on the job. Called the Master of Science in Healthcare Quality, the two-year, part-time program is taught by Queen’s experts in disciplines including law, medicine, nursing, engineering, education, health policy and business. Between 20 and 40 student-professionals in these and other fields are enrolled in each cohort of the program. The week-long introductory course takes place at Queen’s, but since the students live and work across Canada, most of the other courses are delivered online (distance learning).

The program’s co-director, Kim Sears, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, helped launch the program in 2011. She teaches in the program’s introductory course, which includes a section on how to safely administer drugs to patients. She also teaches in another course on health care policy. In both cases, she draws on her considerable research and practical experience to illuminate her material.

Sears began her career as a registered practical nurse in 1989. Later, she enrolled in a master’s program in nursing at the University of Toronto, and while working at the bedside she researched the best sleeping positions for babies and how to administer medications to newborns. Her literature reviews on best practices in these areas helped to change policies at the neonatal intensive care unit where she was working. Later, as a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, she researched the relationship between nurses’ work environments and the occurrence of pediatric medication errors. Her next stop was Dalhousie University, where for her postdoctoral fellowship she worked with a pharmacist to examine medication safety for adults and children in Canada and internationally. The work broadened her prior research by targeting not only hospital nurses, but other health care providers in the community.

[Kim Sears]

Kim Sears (in red) speaks to colleagues and trainees

When she arrived at Queen’s in 2010, she approached the vice-dean and director of the School of Nursing, Dr. Jennifer Medves, to discuss starting a course on quality and safety for undergraduate nursing students. Dr. Medves, in collaboration with anesthesiologist Dr. David Goldstein, identified the need for a master’s program in this area, and after much consultation about program content with experts in the field from around the world and advice from the Queen’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, this idea eventually blossomed into the current master’s program. It is an ideal vehicle for Sears’ research.

“It’s a privilege to bring my research right into the classroom setting,” she says. “Because it’s linked to my field, I can share, and I know a lot of the main resources and places the students need to go to for resources and things like that. I’m in a very fortunate position because I have an opportunity to work with people who are setting policy, people who are working at the bedside, and researchers. The program brings them together, which I think is kind of cool.”

But the program does more than allow Sears to pass along her research insights. That’s because the program itself has a built-in research component. At the start of the program, students are surveyed on their knowledge of quality, risk and safety. They complete the survey a few more times as they move through the program so that Sears and her colleagues can gauge their progress.

“Our first student cohort at the end of the first year showed a statistically significant increase in their knowledge of different aspects of quality, risk and safety,” says Sears. “That was good to see. It showed that the program is actually achieving the desired outcomes.”

Alec Ross
(e)Affect Issue 6, Fall 2014

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Dr. Sears' research