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Always Changing and Improving

May 11, 2017 | By Lisa Schwenk
Published in: Spotlight

Amy Hougan working with Katrina Knight

Kaizen. It's a Japanese word that means 'good change' or 'change for the better'. It's more than a word, though; it's a philosophy that embraces focusing on continuous improvement that will make work and life better. For Amy Hougan, MSN, RN, CNL, the Kaizen Facilitator at Augusta Health, the philosophy is one she has taken personally as well as professionally.

Amy began her career working in Quantitative Business Analysis, with a bachelor's degree in business. After several years of working, she felt a calling to help others and returned to school to become a Registered Nurse. She joined Augusta Health in 2003, and has worked as a bedside nurse, a charge nurse and a clinical educator. She thinks her current position, leading her peers through the process of change and improvement, might be the ideal fit. "I've tied together both nursing and business skills," Amy explains, "and I've been able to use my skills, talents, gifts and training to help my colleagues—and myself—to challenge ourselves to keep learning and growing."

While each project is a bit different, Amy facilitates the process. She leads the Process Teams in scheduling, guides conversations and provides tools and framework, and assists with documenting and follow-through. "But the most important thing I do," she says, "is to empower the people who do the work to make the decisions to improve their work."

"It's a challenging process," Amy adds. "People naturally find change difficult. But when the new process is completed, and those involved see the benefits, are happy with the change and realize they had the power to change it, the feeling changes from resistance to pride."

Kaizen project events can be as short as one hour—pulling together a group to fix a known and well-defined problem—to a complete work-flow redesign that can take several months to implement. Amy has worked with departments throughout the organization, and views her clinical background and expertise, as well as her longevity with Augusta Health to be an advantage. "I'm coming into a work area, and I need to earn their respect. I'm not exactly telling them they are doing things wrong, but I am asking them to reflect on how things could be done better. They need to respect and trust me enough to help them. The Kaizen process is guiding them to create their own solutions. I don't direct, I ask—'How do you want to make this better? '"

For the next year, Amy will be imbedded in Nursing, shadowing and observing and leading them through process improvements. The projects will be as relatively simple as changing the format of Shift Report or as complex and all-encompassing as redesigning the entire discharge process. She's certain that the year ahead will lead to many positive changes and positive outcomes for the patients and staff.

And that personal change she made years ago, when she returned to school to become a nurse—that's had a positive outcome, too. She says, "I think the biggest take-away has been, when you are a nurse, you can really do anything. You can use your clinical knowledge in many ways. You'll always be able to challenge yourself—just continue to think outside the box about how to best use your skills and talents."

Originally published in the News Virginian/Daily Progress Salute to Nurses Section on May 7, 2017.