The Improvement Journey - Lessons from the Ski Slope

The Improvement Journey - Lessons from the Ski Slope

Cindy Hannon, DentaQuest Institute Improvement Advisor reflects on the journey toward improvement: With passion, dedication, and perseverance, dental practices across the country have shown that change is possible.

A few years ago, I stood at the top of a precipice, looked down, and wondered if I was out of my mind. I was skiing with family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I had skied before. I knew what I was doing but this place was different. Looking down, I knew these slopes held lots of potential and that many skilled people had come before me and mastered these slopes. For me though, this terrain while new and exciting was really scary and overwhelming. I couldn't help but wonder if dental practices looking to join a DentaQuest Institute quality improvement initiative felt this way too?

I gathered my courage and started down. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say it wasn't pretty. I really thought I was ready. I had spent time on easier slopes, practicing my technique. But real, meaningful change takes time. So, when I finally made it to the bottom, I returned to the easier slopes to continue my personal improvement project. I know I sound like an improvement junkie here, but I consciously began working on small tests of change-trying different shoulder positions, testing various methods to keep my skis from crossing, and so on. My aim was very clear: I was going to develop the skills necessary to ski that black diamond slope well.

Little by little, I started to feel I was learning and practicing the right formula for success. I have had the fortune to return to Jackson Hole over the years, and I continue to build my skills, my confidence and the evidence to believe I can move out of my comfort zone. The ease to use my newfound skills returns quicker and quicker each year, and now I blaze down black diamonds with a vengeance.  

For dental practices, applying quality improvement methods and tools when thinking about delivering effective and efficient care is so important but it is new and different; maybe even uncomfortable. We teach teams to start with an aim, get others in the room who are interested in change and talk to colleagues  who can talk about what a preventive environment looks like or what it means to them. But just like learning to ski a black diamond trail, each team needs to approach the challenge at their own pace and level of commitment to the goal, both of which are driven by the extent of their belief that change is possible.  

Collaborative teams work in earnest each and every day, and this new way of delivering care serves as a model for others to follow. The improvements are tangible and remarkable but for many, I'm sure there are days when the work seems like too much, the slope is too steep. At the end of the day, however, I'm sure most would say it was worth the journey. Anyone who has ever done quality improvement work knows it is not easy. Complex change takes time and conviction. We face enormous obstacles, but when we commit to the process, even though it can be frustrating and overwhelming, we learn that falling is part of the process. And so we get back up and carry our new knowledge up the mountain for the next run.  

For more information on DentaQuest Institute quality improvement initiatives, visit our website