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Wendy Kingsburgh: Bringing a social work lens to quality improvement

Wendy Kingsburgh

After supporting patients and families as a social worker for more than two decades, Wendy Kingsburgh is excited to be starting a new career as a Performance Improvement Specialist with the Quality Improvement and Patient Safety team at Sunnybrook.

“I’m feeling rejuvenated and energized to be in this role,” the CQuIPS certificate course graduate said. “I loved my time as a social worker, but wanted to do more work with the system to improve care for patients and families.”

Kingsburgh brings a unique lens to the role as the first social worker on the quality team.

“With my background, I can help bring the patient and family perspective in,” she said. “From my two decades in general internal medicine, I have a good sense of where the system is and where the patient is and where we need to bring them closer together – that includes looking at both social determinants of health and systemic issues.”

Just one week into the role, Kingsburgh is already supporting teams across Sunnybrook to make improvements for their patients and staff through an initiative called quality conversations.

“These are 15-minute huddles that happen weekly. They’re interprofessional, so everybody comes together to brainstorm what we can do to improve things on the unit,” she said. “Then out of that, the team chooses one project to work on over the next week and they start PDSA cycles. They’re not big projects – these are quick win initiatives. And I’m there as a coach to help guide and get them excited about this.”

Kingsburgh said that if you asked her five years ago whether she would be working in quality improvement (QI), the answer would be absolutely not. But a couple of key opportunities led her here. The first was being part of the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network (TAHSN) Innovative Fellowship Program that sparked a realization for Kingsburgh that she could use her experience to work on system-level improvements. Her work through the fellowship on advanced care planning for general internal medicine patients and families became a leading practice with Accreditation Canada.

Inspired by that experience, Kingsburgh went on to enroll in the CQuIPS certificate course where she gained more in-depth knowledge on quality improvement and patient safety (QIPS) skills and tools, and in 2020, she graduated from the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation MSc in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety.

“The quality conversations are a great door opener for a lot of people who don’t know a ton about QI,” she said. “We’re all often quick to jump to conclusions and look for a quick fix. But there’s a scientific methodology behind fixing the problem, so this is about diving a little bit deeper to do a root cause analysis and find out if there really is a problem and then identify what we’re trying to do.”

Kingsburgh highlighted several mentors she’s had over the years who have supported her journey into QI, including: Brian Wong, CQuIPS director; Kaveh Shojania, CQuIPS senior scholar and former CQuIPS director; Marie Pinard, CQuIPS associate director at Women’s College Hospital; Brigette Hales, director, quality and patient safety at Sunnybrook; Lisa Di Prospero, director, practice-based research and innovation at Sunnybrook; and Sonia Dyal, her former patient care manager.

Pinard said she is not surprised to see Kingsburgh pivoting to QI.

“It was clear in Wendy’s time in the certificate course that she felt empowered by what QI could do for her colleagues, patients and families,” Pinard said. “Having her in this new role means amazing things for the Toronto QI community – her background in social work will bring such a rich addition to the projects she works on. She is in a great position to help make significant and important changes to our practice to benefit the entire health system.”

Kingsburgh said she’s looking forward to seeing what she can do in this position.

“Quality improvement is so important because it tells us we can come in every day and do a little bit better than the day before,” she said. “There’s always room for improvement. Even if it’s to be a little bit quicker, a little more seamless or communicate a little better, there are so many different ways we can make things better for patients and for those of us providing care.”

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