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03/26/2013

Leading Change, Saving Lives

It's early morning and Organizational Systems Alumnus David Williams, PhD is on a virtual meeting coaching hospital teams across the Atlantic. In the Southwest of England, nurses are trying to reduce hospital-associated infections in acute care hospitals. Headset on and consciously listening, he hears stories from frontline staff on the unit.

Dr. Williams’ journey to become one of the nation’s leading experts on emergency service and health care efficiency was far from traditional, but today he’s helping hospitals and ambulance services around the world save lives.

A guidance counselor convinced David to volunteer as a firefighter with a small town fire department in hopes it would inspire him to go to medical school. Instead, he went on to college and studied in one of the first bachelors programs focused on the management of Emergency Medical Services and worked as a city paramedic nights and weekends. After a decade of frontline experience and a leadership role in quality improvement, he enrolled at Saybrook University.

"I started the doctoral program in Organizational Systems while I was the Commander over Quality for the Austin, Texas EMS system,” he said.  “One of my courses was on consulting skills and Professor Nancy Southern enabled me to work with an EMS Consulting firm as part of my studies to gain hands on experience and make the learning include pragmatic application." At the end of the semester, the firm offered him a role as a senior consultant and he spent the next six years reviewing and improving EMS systems around North America, training leaders of 911 centers and ambulance services, and conducting industry research on practices and performance.

After a major federal report found that EMS system design and operations were lacking, David’s Saybrook dissertation became the first significant study to examine system design holistically and identify the obstacles to a patient-centered approach.  His dissertation was honored as the Saybrook dissertation of distinction for 2010. "I was humbled by the recognition of the work and my Mom was very proud."

In 2005, Dr. Williams began his own firm – TrueSimple – based in Austin, Texas. In addition to his expertise in EMS system design, he continued to develop his passion for process improvement. Momentum had been building for nearly a decade in healthcare to apply improvement science to enhance patient safety and reduce medical risk. One of the leading champions of the work is the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, MA. In 2009, Dr. Williams was invited to join their faculty and became a member of an elite  group of advisors that support EMS improvement collaboratives around the world.

"We teach hospitals and healthcare providers about rapid cycle testing and measurement for Improvement and coach teams to test change ideas to improve outcomes," he said. This work has taken him across North America, the United Kingdom, and Portugal working with some of the top patient safety experts in the world. "It's been a great learning curve and wonderful community and I'm excited to know our work is helping to protect patient's and save lives."

When he reflects on Saybrook University and the effect it had on his career and life’s work, Dr. Williams says, “I think back to my time at Saybrook University and I’m thankful for the opportunities it enabled, the way faculty like my dissertation chair Dr. John Adams and others pushed me, and the great friends I have to this day.”

Posted at 04:13 PM

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