May 21, 2024

Class of 2024: Precision Health Program grad motivated by opportunity to elevate patient voice

Master’s student Coty Ong is part of program’s first graduating class
A group of people stand in front of a children's hospital sign
Coty Ong, second from right, with her Alberta Children's Hospital project team.

A registered nurse for 27 years, Consuelo (Coty) Ong had travelled all over North America. She worked as a travel nurse, as a clinical nurse educator, and took on other diverse leadership roles to expand her expertise. Through the range of work experiences, she discovered a passion for patient safety and set out to become a leader in the field.

It all led Ong to the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Precision Health Program.

“There are a wide variety of career paths in health care,” says Ong, now a senior patient safety specialist with Alberta Health Services (AHS). “But I fell in love with patient safety and quality improvement and since then continued to pursue that path.”

Seeking to learn more about leadership in patient safety and how she could be a catalyst for change, Ong was delighted to come across the Precision Health Program (PHP) which offered a specialization in Quality and Safety Leadership. A laddered master’s degree designed for working professionals from many backgrounds, the PHP is unique in Canada as the only graduate degree of its kind focused on precision health. 

Ong joined the inaugural cohort when the program launched in the fall of 2021. This year she will earn a master’s degree in precision health that aligns with her career ambitions.

Elevating the voices of patients and families

As part of her master's PHP project, Ong leads a patient safety initiative being developed at the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) and the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital. Called Partnering with Families to Improve Pediatric Patient Safety, her project aims to unite and elevate the voices of patients, families and health-care providers in pediatric hospital settings. It supports the Safest Together program, a patient safety initiative based at ACH and Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital.

Ong’s supervisor and academic project lead, Dr. Jennifer Thull-Freedman, MD, MSc, a clinical associate professor with the CSM’s Department of Pediatrics, wanted to improve the experience of safety for families of children admitted to hospital and increase engagement in patient safety initiatives.

“We were seeing many positive outcomes from our work in safety,” Thull-Freedman says. “But we had a sense that our program wasn’t reaching families and improving their experience as much as it could.”

In interviews with parents of patients admitted to hospital, families shared that staff behaviours and attitudes, collaboration and prioritization of family experience was what mattered most in making them feel safe. Ong’s role was to better understand how to improve the family experience based on that feedback and to facilitate co-design workshops and strategies that incorporated the voices of everyone involved.

A woman stands in front of a bulletin board

Coty Ong

Through consultation and interviews the team discovered that families were not always aware of the safety actions being implemented in the hospital or ways they could contribute. The team was able to determine that psychological safety was the foundation of feeling safe for families and among health-care providers, and that families valued being able to communicate openly without fear of judgment. 

“Blending the family and patient voice with the health-care professional experience and knowledge has provided unique perspectives that help us create and fuel innovative change in the hospital environment,” Ong says. Findings will help improve the experience of safety for everyone involved and may lead to broader system change down the road, she adds.

Laurel Pridgen became involved with Ong’s project as a family advisor soon after two of her children were diagnosed with a rare genetic disease. She uses her lived experience as a parent of children with medical complexity to provide feedback on the program.

“Through my involvement with this project as a family member with lived experience, I have seen an excellent example of health-care professionals collaborating with families to improve outcomes for children and families,” she says.

Pridgen says the project team has been willing to advocate on her behalf and enabled her to share her story with many health-care leaders and front-line staff in order to improve personalized care. 

“I think many individuals have learned about co-design and the importance of it through Coty’s project and passion for this work.”

Quality and safety leadership

Students in the PHP’s Quality and Safety Leadership specialization are trained in health system and project management with a focus on innovation. They also learn how to measure and improve patient outcomes, experience and value within the health system. Ong says her studies have provided that specialized training, helped her develop flexibility and emotional intelligence, and strengthened her skills as a health-care leader in her field. 

She is grateful to have found graduate-level studies that align with her career interests, and to have connected with other “change agents” through the program. “Coalitions with like-minded people are really important,” she says. “And this program was a catalyst for creating that.”

Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2024.

Graduates, as you prepare to transition away from student life, we'd like to also welcome you into the UCalgary alumni community. Learn about the programs, benefits and services available exclusively to UCalgary grads, and be sure to keep in touch. 

The Cumming School of Medicine’s Precision Health Program is delivered online, making it accessible to professionals living anywhere the world. Students can choose from four specializations designed to enhance their potential as health-care leaders in the areas of precision medicine, quality and safety leadership, health professions education leadership, and innovation and entrepreneurship. For more information visit Applications for the Precision Health Program will be accepted until May 31, 2024.

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