The Origin Story of the Relational Leadership Institute at OHSU: Part 2

With a determined party of two, Andrew and I set out to find the like-minded people we needed to help us build our local movement.

In launching the Relational Leadership Institute (RLI) at OHSU, we started with a series of one-to-one meetings, building a small core team of interprofessional, cross-generational individuals — Veronique Johnstone, Kelsey Priest, Marcel Tam, Teresa Turnbull, Andrew, and myself — who were all passionate about and invested in spreading ideals and practices to foster a relational culture and encourage upstream change.

In partnership with PCP, our core team built RLI from the ground up. We designed the learning experience not to replace, but complement the traditional models of leadership in healthcare, ones that taught us executive functioning and process improvement skills to draw from when necessary. These traditional, more authoritative approaches catering to individual leaders would be supplemented with more collaborative, engaging, and strengths-based techniques that fostered an environment where all team members would lead from where they stood.

Design, Impact, and What’s Next

Oregon Health & Sciences University

From start to finish, RLI’s interactive curriculum is designed for participants to synthesize their learning and explore ways to incorporate what they have learned into their professional and personal lives. The science of story and the essential components of compelling storytelling is an essential ingredient to the secret sauce of RLI. Showing healthcare professionals across career stages how to use the power of story to help build a team of people who have shared values, shared interests, who are interested in making something better.

RLI represents a doubling down on the importance of teams and team dynamics. Our facilitators and trainers create a space that models the evidence-based practices of high-performing teams, including shared power, trust, vulnerability and psychological safety, in order to help participants experience team in a totally different light. Beyond being merely a vehicle of execution of a predetermined plan, RLI thrusts individuals across all stages of health professional training in a dynamic space of mutual learning, collaboration, and professional growth. For many, there’s an a-ha moment when they discover how their stories of self and of us fit in with the larger narrative of society.

It’s about that thread tying all these things together, so that we come to a point where we can create change that’s outside of just ourselves. To build a community that’s interested in working together on one thing to create change.

What’s next? We’ve just completed our fourth cohort of RLI at OHSU, and have reached 100 intergenerational and interprofessional participants over the last two years. Each cohort brings a special energy and perspective to the learning journey. With evaluation of the most recent cohort still to come, early results from our first three cohorts have been promising.

  • Over 98% of participants “agree” or “strongly agree” that they “plan to use skills they have learned in the future” and that they “have learned practical skills that will help them in their work,” with significant increases in self-assessed competence for all 11 of RLI’s core competencies.
  • These skills seem to have a lasting impact: 50% of RLI 1 and RLI 2 participants reporting that they were “moderately” or “fully” applying skills in one-to-one meetings and teaming. We assessed RLI 3 participants in well-being and sense of community scales, and noted significant increases in these measures for the cohort.

We are extremely glad that RLI is making an objective impact.

Small Steps Toward Healthcare Transformation

Above all, nothing is more rewarding than hearing individual stories that transcend these evaluation findings. Each individual’s perspective reveals that these relational practices are making a real, deep, and sustained impact on other people with outcomes such as:

  • Gaining a greater awareness and confidence of one’s own strengths and impact on others
  • Enhancing a previously challenging relationship by integrating a strength-based approach to a colleague
  • Starting a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) program by first identifying shared values of colleagues and stakeholders
  • Launching a successful reproductive health equity campaign with a local community-based organization through narrative leadership and building relational power

This is more evidence of RLI participants applying these skills and seeing an immediate impact, representing how what RLI teaches complements their technical skills so well. As more people keep coming back, it’s also evidence that our participants feel a part of something larger than themselves, larger than their work through RLI — that the community built through RLI provides ongoing support to them beyond the clinic or classroom.

These are small steps toward healthcare transformation that I know can’t happen overnight. But I also know that the movement we started at OHSU is spreading. More leaders are talking about Relational Leadership within our own institution, and that new RLIs are beginning to take shape at other institutions across the country, building off of what we’ve learned at OHSU.

When I think about what’s needed to address the immense and complex issues facing healthcare today — the need to revitalize relationships, the need to address systems, and social change to advance health equity — I understand that the journey will be long. But based on what I’ve seen at RLI, I also know that we have the right people in the movement to one day get there.

And I’ll tell you a secret: there’s nothing more important than that.

Read more about the origin story of RLI at OHSU in “Part 1” on the Progress Notes blog.

Brian Park

Brian is an Assistant Professor at the OHSU Department of Family Medicine and Course Director for RLI at OHSU. With nearly a decade of experience as a community organizer, Brian is passionate about community building, social change, and health equity. He merges these interests both as the director of the Relational Leadership Institute and as the director of Health Equity And Leadership, a program that increases patient/community capacity to address the social determinants of health.

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