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Teach Us How to Innovate! Graduate Students’ Impressions from Their First CFHA Conference

Posted By Jodi Polaha, Thursday, November 07, 2013

(This post is the second in a two-part series of blog posts following up on the 2013 CFHA Annual Conference. Click here for the first post.)

Taking students to the CFHA annual conference is, in my 7th year, a kind of ritual. I start in April, selling our first year students on the mission match for CFHA and ETSU’s doctoral program. Over the summer, I badger our Chair for department funds to cover student travel and badger the students to apply for CFHA scholarships. In the fall, when we begin to meet weekly for my course, "Primary Care Psychology 1,” I strategically note the contributions of CFHA members in this advancing field. Mid-semester, we finalize our plans and attend the conference. And then I worry about them. Will they learn? Have fun? Think it was worthwhile? I take them out to dinner, introduce them to people, and offer to share a cab to the airport.

It’s a lot to take on. At some point I find myself asking "Why am I doing this?”

Over the years, I’ve generated plenty of satisfying answers to this question, but this year Dannel and Katelyn stopped me in my tracks with a new one. Their thoughts, in sum, were:

Yes, they met lots of great people and even the authors of some class readings.
Yes, they heard someone (besides me) talk convincingly about the burgeoning opportunities in integrated care.
Yes, they saw the data that supports integrated care models.
Yes, they felt there were ample opportunities to exchange ideas.

It was all the best stuff of any great conference. "But,” they wondered aloud, "how do we learn how to innovate? Everyone keeps talking about it. We want to know how to do it.”

Instinctively, my students’ interest in learning how to disrupt status quo made me glow. That the CFHA conference effectively conveyed the value of disrupting status quo is a new and singular reason for taking them along, no matter the work involved, the badgering, and the logistics.

Their question is also a challenge to me as an educator. Should I teach my students to innovate? And, if so, how?

Choosing to teach my students to innovate means I’m betting that "innovating” will be a marketable skill in the health care workforce of the future. Will it? As an educator in this ever-changing landscape, I am faced with a curious objective: to prepare providers with skills for tasks, roles, and milieus yet unknown. In his oft-cited TED talk,Sir Ken Robinson, a leading expert on innovation and human resources makes the same case regarding the education of our children:

I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do, we have a huge vested interest in it, partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise ….{ }, what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability, I think, is extraordinary.

Student reflections on the need for new skills (to innovate!) are always a sign to me that my target has moved. Educators like me and even CFHA as an organization have to be sensitive to feedback about that moving target. My students and many others are beginning to come to the conference convinced of the concept, armed with the supporting data (sometimes from their own dissertations!), and with a business plan, job offer, and grant in hand. Our students are graduating from programs where they take interdisciplinary courses, watch integrated practices in action, start up their own integrated practices, and conduct studies evaluating integrated care. The unpredictability of how these skills and experiences will play out IS extraordinary. To do this job right, we educators will need to be reconnoitering, reallocating, and re-aiming for new training targets every step of the way.
"Innovating” will be a marketable skill in the health care workforce of the future
As a testimony, my syllabus for my Primary Care Psychology 1 Class changes every semester. Last year, I added a week on Dissemination and Implementation Science. This year I added a week on Ethics in Primary Care. Next year: "Innovating” thanks to Dannel and Katie. As the "integrated care” concept has taken off, I’ve had email requests for my syllabus, which I am happy to share, but perhaps it should contain a disclaimer or, better yet, an expiration date.

In its "educator role,” CFHA has to make its best predictions about what data, models, and skills will be needed in the future; a tall order in the context of this dynamic health care landscape. Those predictions can be based on policy, practice, research, and student input. They can’t pay much, if anything, and may not have great content-related expertise to add to the meeting, but they are worth the effort. Students’ fresh eyes and personal stake in training for the future workforce bring a valued contribution and one we need to integrate. Personally, I am looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Dr. Polaha would like to thank her students, Dannel Petgrave and Katelyn Todaro, for their input on this blog post.


Jodi Polaha, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at East Tennessee State University where her primary professional interest is research, training, and workforce development in rural integrated practice.

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Randall Reitz says...
Posted Thursday, November 07, 2013
Jodi Polaha--Always striking at the heart of the matter. Integrated care innovation needs to be taught as more than just lightning in a bottle. How do innovators learn to innovate? How can the apprentices become the visionaries?
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Christopher L. Hunter says...
Posted Friday, November 08, 2013
Dr. Polaha,

Thanks for your thought provoking post. In my opinion, helping students learn to innovate rests on a base of skills included in being a critical thinker and a good scientist. These skill sets allow students to adapt, excel and innovate regardless of the skills for tasks, roles, and milieus that may face them in the future.

A well cultivated critical thinker:

•Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;

•Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;

•Thinks open mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and

•Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.
(Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008)

The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

-Ask a Question
-Do Background Research
-Construct a Hypothesis
-Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
-Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
-Communicate Your Results

I believe if students can think critically and use good scientific methods, that innovation in practice, policy and teaching will occur as part of the standard approach and mindset that they bring to their daily work.
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Jodi Polaha says...
Posted Friday, November 08, 2013
Thanks Randall, and I agree. It seems like the term "innovating" gets thrown around as a highly valued but mysterious or elusive process. Chris these ideas are, I think, a good start to operationalizing how it's taught. Taking from Dissemination and Implementation Science, though, critical thinking and the scientific method are improved (from an innovation view) when we de-silo: bringing new partners and ideas to the table, especially if they can reflect a "real world" perspective.
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Matthew P. Martin says...
Posted Saturday, November 09, 2013
After reading this post and the subsequent comments, I find myself marinading this word "innovation" in my mind. Chris, I completely agree. Critical thinking is key to successful innovation. I developed critical thinking skills in my graduate research courses where I was challenged to define a problem, identify what past research states, determine the "next brick in the wall", and make a plan to fill that hole. Today, I find myself flexing my critical thinking skills when I meet people who think completely different from me and who ask tough questions. So Jodi yes, a part of innovation is collaborating with people who challenge our assumptions and invite us to see the world differently.
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