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Diana Stillwell, MHSA, CNMT and CPHQ: Journey to Quality Certification

I didn’t know how to apply a fishbone diagram or a run chart. I learned them in school, but I learned how to apply them during our Quality Forums. People were actually using and talking about them.

Diana Stillwell, MHSA, CNMT, CPHQ
Director, Quality Improvement and Risk Management
May 31, 2018

Shortly after joining the Strategic Radiology coalition, the leadership of Orlando, Fla.-based Medical Center Radiology Group attended the coalition’s twice-yearly Quality Forum and made a note: Designate a patient safety lead for the practice and initiate a formal quality program.

Back in Florida, MCRG leadership reached out to Diana Stillwell, a nuclear medicine technologist who had just completed her MHA after going back to school and was working for one of their hospitals at the time. When they asked her to lead the program, she hesitated: “I didn’t feel that I had the knowledge that I needed,” recalls recall Stillwell, director of quality improvement and risk management, MCRG. “But I knew that I was a resourceful person and thought it was a great opportunity, so I dove right in. I have been in the role for about two and a half years now.”

In May, she finalized a process to demonstrate her commitment to her new position—and her worthiness to herself—by undergoing and passing the examination to become a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ). The CPHQ is a credential that demonstrates the designee’s understanding of healthcare quality. Stillwell heard about the certification at the very first SR Quality Forum she attended in March 2016.

“Lisa Mead (SR’s PSO and Quality Executive Director) mentioned the CPHQ, and several of the speakers at that conference either had their CPHQ or were preparing for it,” Stillwell recalls. “I was encouraged by the MCRG leadership to pursue certification, and within the first six months of my hire, I had enrolled in the AHQ online modules.”

Taking the Exam

Preparation for the exam proved more arduous than Stillwell anticipated. The National Association of Healthcare Quality online training modules consisted of Power Point presentations organized by examination section and designed to test the taker’s knowledge of health care quality and quality assessment tools in self-paced modules.  Registrants have about two years to complete the program, and for the first six months, Stillwell spent two to four hours a week studying the material. Then life intervened.

Stillwell was asked to temporarily manage one of the joint ventured imaging centers the practice owned with their primary hospital client Orlando Health. “The six months that I was there, I didn’t look at the materials once,” she asserts.

In July 2017, Mead visited MCRG to assess its Quality Program and asked Stillwell when she planned to take the CPHQ exam. That gentle prod stayed with her. At the beginning of 2018, she set a goal to finish by summer. She used the notes she had taken from the online course, purchased the CPHQ study skills book, and signed up for a two-day prep course at the Florida chapter of the NAHQ just prior to the exam, which she passed.

Overall, the time investment was greater than she expected, but she doesn’t think she would have passed otherwise. “I did not consider it an easy exam,” she says. “I don’t want to discourage anyone, but it was harder than I thought it would be. All of the information is covered in most of the study materials available—it’s just that there is so much information.”

In retrospect, Stillwell was glad that she had two years under her belt as a quality lead before attempting the examination. “If I had tried to take it in that first year, I probably wouldn’t have been prepared,” she notes. “At the prep course, they actually recommended that you are in a quality role for at least two years before you attempt to take the exam, probably because you learn so much in those first two years.”

A Bigger Team

Stillwell also credits participation in the SR Quality Forums and Collaborate, SR’s internal intranet, for contributing to her quality education. “I didn’t know how to apply a fishbone diagram or a run chart,” Stillwell says. “I learned them in school, but I learned how to apply them during our Quality Forums. People were actually using and talking about them.”

She also enjoys the exchange of ideas with like-minded quality professionals, and hearing about quality initiatives and how other groups measure quality in their organization.  Says Stillwell: “Every time I go, I feel recharged as a quality professional.”

Having the support of quality operatives at other practices through the SR intranet has been equally beneficial. “I get almost immediate feedback from my colleagues at other groups on things like guidelines, best practices, and strategies for implementing change,” she says.  “I also feel like I am on a bigger team than just the MCRG quality team. 

“The collaboration I see—with the quality team, the executives, the physician leaders—is so motivating,” continues Stillwell. “I get that support from MCRG physicians and leadership, and I love sharing what we are doing with the other practices and receiving what others have to give.”

 

 

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