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Meet the New Member: Helen Vosper

Read the latest in our series where we introduce you to new Q members: meet Helen Vosper, who tells us about her improvement journey and what she hopes to learn from the Q community.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your improvement journey.

By background, I was a research scientist, exploring molecular mechanisms of atherosclerosis. I became involved in health care in 2004 when I took up a post as a lecturer on the undergraduate pharmacy course at Robert Gordon University. It was here that I was first introduced to Quality Improvement (QI) – the Scottish pharmacy courses have strong links with NHS boards, including NHS Education for Scotland (NES), our national training and education body. QI is a keystone supporting safe and effective care within NHS Scotland.

QI is a keystone supporting safe and effective care within NHS Scotland

Accordingly, undergraduate students are introduced to the Model for Improvement. During my time at RGU, I became an enthusiastic educator, gaining both teaching qualifications and professional recognition, including Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Through my educational enhancement work, I learned the importance of student partnership, recognising the importance of individual context in relation to learning. I saw first-hand how this ‘hidden curriculum’ strongly influenced student understanding, especially in relation to health care quality and safety. To support students in developing the right values and adopting the right behaviours requires exposure of this hidden curriculum, allowing students the opportunity to explore its influence. ‘Teaching’ to me, therefore, means providing an enabling environment facilitating students as ‘masters of their own learning.’

What first attracted you to QI?

The story of “the Little Scientist and the Permanent Job” is a metaphorical rendering I created of an interview experience for my first academic post:

Once upon a time, there was a Little Scientist, with 11 years in contract research in a 5-star department. With a young family, she wanted security, and set off into the forest to find a new job. She secured an interview with a Pharmacy School, where the Head asked her why she wanted the position.

“Oh,” said the Little Scientist, “I have expertise in cardiovascular disease, and would love to share this with your students,” while a tiny voice in her head spoke the truth: “It is a permanent job!”

“Wonderful!” said the Head. “I will pass you over to HR!”

“What about your own development needs?” said the HR person. “Would you be interested in a teacher training course?”

“Yes please!” said the Little Scientist, “That would be wonderful!”

“Well, you must complete half the PgCert in the first year or you will fail your probation and be sacked.”

“What big teeth you have, HR person.”

It seemed to me that by making teacher-training part of probation, a carrot becomes a stick: this high-quality teacher training programme, rather than being a fantastic support structure for new staff, just became another burden to add on top of all the other burdens that new staff are trying to juggle.

I recognised the Q community as an excellent resource – a group of like-minded individuals, committed to safety.

When I was first introduced to QI, I saw similar issues. While it offered excellent methods and tools to support improvement practice, workload often meant there perhaps wasn’t as much time for QI education as might be desirable. I tried to address this by helping students to develop and mature their QI skills as part of their course, ensuring they were ready to hit the ground running when they went into practice. We established formal structures for student partnership, and our student learning enhancers were supported in using QI methods and tools to co-create patient safety learning resources for the pharmacy course. We also supported our students in setting up their own IHI Patient Safety Chapter.

What are you hoping to get out of Q?

As part of my own journey in patient safety, I retrained as a Human Factors specialist and am now Scientific Advisor in Human Factors to NHS Education for Scotland. Human Factors and QI share the same origins, but have evolved differently. We believe that Human Factors capability can add value to QI projects, and I was a co-applicant on the Q Exchange 2019 project, Community of Practice: Human Factors and Quality Improvement. This was led by Professor Paul Bowie, Programme Director, Safety and Improvement at NES. As part of this project, the Health Foundation and Q community joined together to create an incredible safety learning resource. This provided me with an opportunity to see Q members in action, and this triggered my application. I recognised the Q community as an excellent resource – a group of like-minded individuals, committed to safety. I look forward to the next step in our journey!

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