Ten years of Healthcare Leadership at Brown's School of Professional Studies

As a new group of healthcare leaders embarked on their master’s journey, the current class got an interactive lesson in quality improvement from a nostalgic childhood toy.

group of students holding a banner in front of gates


Providence, R.I. [Brown University] The sun was shining on the newest Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership (MHL) cohort as they processed through the Van Wickle Gates during the program’s 10th convocation ceremony on January 30, 2023.

Program leadership and staff of the School of Professional Studies along with current students, family and friends applauded this significant occasion for the 25 professionals embarking on the transformational program. The diverse 10th cohort brings an impressive average of 18 years of experience from various healthcare backgrounds and industries such as consulting, education, biotechnology and government.

Students traveled near and far to participate in the first residential week in Providence which kicked off with a keynote address from Chris Godfrey, an alumnus of the very first Healthcare Leadership cohort. Since graduating from the program, Godfrey founded Bloodbuy, a software and services company focused on developing cloud-based technologies that vastly improve how biological products are managed and disseminated. In 2016, Bloodbuy was named the first winner of the Harvard Business School-Harvard Medical School Health Acceleration Challenge, and was awarded the Brown Graduate School Professional Excellence Award.

Throughout the week students participated in coursework on Healthcare Policy and Strategic Planning and Value Creation, as well as a guest lecture from alumnus Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy, outreach and innovation at the College of Medicine at Howard University. Crawford’s presentation explored digital health strategies to advance health equity.

After the residential session, students returned home to begin the online learning period. They come back to Providence again in June to start their summer term.


Lessons in quality improvement: A toy story


As MHL cohort 10 students were just getting started, cohort 9 was also on campus for their second to last residential week before they cross the stage for Commencement in May. During this point in their studies, coursework includes Leadership and Professional Development, Data Analytics, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics. One course in particular, Quality Improvement and the Learning Organization taught by Dr. Randolph Peto, takes students back to a familiar pastime, Mr. Potato Head.

students assembling parts from many Mr. Potato Head toys
Students work in teams to quickly assemble the parts of 16 different Mr. Potato Heads.

The interactive Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) exercise, adopted from Dr. Eric Dickson of UMASS Memorial Health demonstrates the importance of teamwork, communication and processes as they relate to quality improvement concepts and patient safety.

At the beginning of the exercise, students learn there’s been an accident. Separated into ‘ER Trauma Teams,’ each group is tasked with accurately assembling as many Mr. Potato Heads — aka patients — as possible to match a series of photographic models. Not to mention, each team only has seven minutes to do so.

The first trial is often humbling, filled with mistakes and low quality outcomes. After observation, Sandi Ferretti, associate director for the Master’s in Healthcare Leadership program assures the class, “It’s not always about the people. It’s about the process that’s being used. Quality is influenced by the system, not individual players, and there are ways to make any system better.”

Following an open discussion, each team has another chance to strategize how they can improve their process before attempting the exercise a second time. It teaches students how to do small scale, rapid testing of change ideas and measurement to improve processes.

The ultimate goal? With small changes, healthcare teams can make big differences in both patient safety and efficiency.