The Journey to Excellence Starts with a Single Step

Added on Nov 7, 2017

DNlGlb-XUAAmovD“Keep moving, keep breathing. The best is yet to come.” Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts shared this mantra with attendees of the 2017 Press Ganey National Client Conference to describe how she persevered through some of her darkest days while undergoing treatment in 2007 for breast cancer, and in 2012 after a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome.

In her keynote address, Roberts also reminded the audience that “optimism is a muscle that gets stronger with use”—a lesson embodied by Retired Technical Sergeant Adam Popp, the poppsubject of an inspirational video introduced by Press Ganey CEO Patrick Ryan to highlight the theme of this year’s conference, Journey to Excellence.

Popp, an Explosive Ordnance Detection specialist, was injured by an improvised explosive device while deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, ultimately losing his right leg above the knee. After undergoing multiple surgeries—as many as two to three per week for the first month of his recovery—Popp embarked on his own journey to excellence, fueled, he said, by the caregivers who were committed to his progress.

With the support and encouragement of his care team at Walter Reed Hospital, Popp redefined his life. Soon, he was skiing and bicycling, and as he gained strength and confidence, he began running … and just kept going, competing in a half marathon, a full marathon and then an ultramarathon.

“I went from not being able to run a few hundred feet, to running a half marathon faster than I’d ever run, to running in a marathon that I’d never run previously, to doing a 100-mile race that no other above-the-knee amputee had ever done,” Popp said. “You will never know your breaking point unless you push yourself to it. I’m still trying to find mine.”

That Popp attributes his early motivation to his caregivers underscores the power of teamwork in health care, according to Dr. Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic. “Care in the 21st century is about teams,” Dr. Cosgrove said in the video. “There’s no individual who can handle all of the necessities there are for someone recovering, particularly from serious injuries like Adam’s.”

Those necessities, according to Popp, extend far beyond the obvious clinical considerations. “Patients’ recovery and potential in the rest of their lives moving forward is almost dependent on the care they receive early on. To see that [your caregivers] are so invested in you makes you want to put in the effort as well,” so you don’t disappoint them or yourself, he explained.

The central ingredient to that investment, said the president and CEO of Hartford Healthcare, Elliot Joseph, who participated in an executive leadership panel during the conference, “is this notion that surgeon, nurse, OR tech—everybody who is in that moment—is fully dedicated to, fully focused [on] doing their professional best to rescue a bad situation. These are the moments our team members live for: to be able to move in and make a profound difference in somebody’s health, and their life.”

For Popp, this meant being treated as an individual with hopes and goals, rather than as just one of many cases or patients. “The physical therapist, the occupational therapists, the surgeons—all of them just coming into the room and really treating me as a person, and doing that as a team, made me feel like they were invested in [me],” he said.

In health care, “we have an enormous opportunity to try to understand every individual patient and their goals,” said the president and CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital, Sandra Fenwick, who also participated in the executive leadership panel at the conference. “This takes individualization, it takes time and it takes sensitivity.” It also requires “a fundamental belief that excellence is part of your institutional commitment to never being satisfied. It’s not just saying that we’re going to be the best at safety or we’re going to be the best innovative hospital. We really have to think about how we are going to be the best at all of these,” she said in the video.

Echoing this sentiment, CEO Patrick Ryan challenged conference attendees to approach their work with renewed urgency. “Look at it through the eyes of your patients and families. Be present, embrace change, challenge the status quo, and be bold in your thinking.”

Excellence is always a journey, said Dr. Cosgrove. “It’s a stepwise process. You take all of these little steps and suddenly you have this big change.”

Robin Roberts conveyed the same message. “Dream big, but focus small, on the day-to-day things that will get you to your goal,” she said. “Left foot, right foot, breathe. Left foot, right foot, breathe.”

To Adam Popp, those words carry much significance: In addition to completing more than 550 miles of racing in 30 events over the past two years, he is pursuing a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling to help others realize that it’s never too late to begin their own journey to excellence.