Seeds of Change

Bassam Zahid, MSIII

A few months ago, world-renowned design firm, IDEO, released a new tool to assess the innovative capacity of companies. They compiled years of data from working with some of the biggest companies in the world and determined that great companies embody six core values:

  • Purpose – a clear, inspiring reason for a company’s existence and whether or not leadership and employees align on that vision
  • Looking Out – how often a company’s employees look beyond the walls of their institution to get ideas, insights, and inspiration
  • Experimentation – how amenable a company is to inexpensively and quickly trialing new ideas, using data to assess success or failure
  • Collaboration – how well different departments work together to bring new ideas into fruition
  • Empowerment – how much autonomy does an institution give its employees to create meaningful change
  • Refinement – how effective is the institution in executing its ideas by marrying strategy, design, and product

While different people in different department at Meharry will have varying opinions on how well our school meets these standards, the seeds of change have been planted. Two years ago, I gathered a team of students, faculty, and administrators to establish 2100 Health and Technology, a student group on campus focused on healthcare innovation. Building upon the work of students who came before us, we teamed up with Student Services, the Office of Research, and the Department of Bioinformatics to develop an app – Meharry Mobile; establish a Ted-Talk style speaker series – Start Up Symposium; and conduct various programs like coding workshops and a health app design competition.

One of 2100’s goals has been to create meaningful cultural change at Meharry. We envision Meharrians shifting from mere consumers of information to active innovators. It became vital that we establish a creative space on campus. Our work in our first year had tilled the soil with administration; we knew they trusted us. As medical schools and hospitals across the country have been building innovation centers in the past decade and we asked, why not us?

At the beginning of last semester, we pitched the idea for an innovation center to Dr. Hildreth and received the school’s blessing to establish the Meharry Innovation Center in the Cal Turner Family Center for Student Education. Sponsored by the Office of Research and Student Services, we officially opened in January 2017. Finally, a garden for creative thought! Now we needed healthy doses of sunshine, water, and equipment. Within weeks, we outfitted the center with art supplies for protoyping, decorated the walls with inspiring quotes, and began holding meetings once a week for those interested in healthcare innovation and business. The innovation center represented a major milestone for 2100, as we became the only student group on campus with our own physical space… in the newest building on campus by the way.

Over the past semester, the Meharry Innovation Center has harvested student creativity and put on a variety of programs. We began the semester with art workshops that challenged students to learn anatomy by building 3D models of the vessels in the abdomen and of the spinal tracts in the nervous system. We held events that varied from discussions on artificial intelligence to experimenting with Microsoft HoloLens to discussing design thinking principles in healthcare. Emboldened by innovations in medical education, we have even held improv comedy workshops. And in an effort to establish cross-discipline collaboration, we teamed up with the Matthew Walker Surgery Club to host a morbidity and mortality conference.

The Meharry Innovation Center represents a grand experiment that is a departure from the modus operandi traditionally seen at our school. The school gave 2100 Health and Technology space on campus to test out ideas and programs that we would like to see established on campus. We were given the freedom to fail in a controlled environment – a place to learn from our mistakes rather than be punished for them. If one of our programs was poorly executed or did not draw many participants, we viewed it as an opportunity to prune the bushes and pull the weeds.

I propose that the establishment of the Meharry Innovation Center should be held as a model for the rest of the school as we continue to fertilize our curriculum, clinics, and administration with creative thought and innovative practices. While we still have our shortcomings, the Meharry Medical College took a chance on creating the Innovation Center that incidentally checks off many of the standards established by IDEO. The Center is driven by the clear purpose of delivering healthcare innovation to the underserved. We have been active in learning about medical education innovation from established programs like JeffDesign at Jefferson Medical College, the Design Institute for Health at UT Austin, and the Vanderbilt Medical Innovation Lab. Most importantly, the Innovation Center has served as a hub for collaboration across different departments and given us the freedom to experiment with ideas that can potentially transform Meharry.

Moving forward, our work at the Meharry Innovation Center is far from over. 2100 Health and Technology is looking for new recruits to lead the next wave of innovation at our school. We are hoping to partner with different organizations and departments across campus so that the Meharry Innovation Center can move from the fringes of campus life towards the center. We envision a center that plants firm roots into the ground and extends branches to connect the students, faculty, and administration.

Now the question we must ask is, are you ready to get your hands dirty?

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