By Randena Hulstrand, Vizient
"A circuitous journey."
Marly Christenson, associate vice president of Vizient member education and learning, is the first to admit that her career path has not been linear. As a young girl growing up in the small town of Minot, North Dakota, she dreamed of being a teacher, and set up a classroom in her basement, with a chalk board, a light blue flannel board and a rubber-tipped pointer. Her students, sometimes imaginary, also included stuffed animals, neighbor friends and siblings.
"I would teach lessons to anyone who would listen," she said.
But she also loved to dance and create her own choreography, and later in school found a fascination for anatomy and physiology, which fostered her passion to become a nurse — delivering care to others.
"I've enjoyed a full life and experienced many different paths in the profession of nursing, from acute care across the continuum of settings and then into management and leadership," said Christenson, who later earned a Ph.D. in health services research. That landed her a job in performance improvement in the early 2000's at a legacy company of Vizient for five years and then Providence Health and Services due to her family relocation, where she designed, developed and implemented enterprise-wide initiatives to advance safety leadership, high reliability, organizational learning and improvement.
At her core, Christenson — who "boomeranged" back to Vizient in 2018 and began implementing the early ideas of a Vizient Learning Academy, which is celebrating its first year — wholeheartedly believes that learning is lifelong and essential.
"Continuous learning nourishes us, enhances our opportunities, increases wellbeing, and fosters creativity," she said. "It's also imperative in today's healthcare environment. New information continues to confront leaders who are needing to make informed decisions at an increasing pace. Learning and assimilating the best-known leading practice has a positive effect, not just for a leader and their organizations, but ultimately in the patient care experience."
Enhancing careers and organizations
The Vizient Learning Academy delivers high quality healthcare learning experiences to advance individual and organizational performance through an exclusive portfolio of programs designed for professional development for new, emerging or seasoned leaders. Vizient subject matter experts collaborate in the design, development and delivery of these programs.
"We built out a model of different areas of learning that align with Vizient's advisory expertise. Without these experts, the Learning Academy would not exist," Christenson said.
They cover many relevant topics to meet the need of various healthcare professionals, including accreditation and regulatory; analytics and insights; leadership and governance; quality, safety and reliability; and spend management and clinical-supply integration.
Healthcare professionals can earn continuing education credits through most of the Learning Academy programs. Vizient is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Additionally, Vizient awards continuing education to support the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality through the National Association for Healthcare Quality.
The Learning Academy, which delivered 18 programs this past year with a 9.2 out of 10 overall satisfaction rating by participants, is just one of the many continuing education programs that Vizient delivers and collectively awarded over 18,000 continuing education credits to physicians, nurses, pharmacists and staff at provider organizations in 2022. The live virtual courses within the Learning Academy are exclusively designed to address provider needs and offer layered learning experiences from two-day intensive workshops to 18-week programs with mentoring and final projects.
"It's exciting to see people go through these programs and then apply the gained knowledge for actual results," she said.
Creating ripples of impact
With the tremendous turnover in the healthcare workforce, Christenson said it's especially important — now more than ever — for organizations to invest in professional development.
"Nearly one in four nurses are actively disengaged compared to only one in 16 of other U.S. workforce areas," she said. "With that in mind, we know that providing creative opportunities for learning is motivating among staff, giving them a chance to enhance their skills, which immediately can boost their engagement levels, their loyalty and create long-term benefits for an organization."
For example, providers at one healthcare organization took part in one of Vizient's two-day workshops on Safety, Reliability and Management Systems.
"They put what they learned into action, and it made a huge difference in their organization, reducing hospital-acquired pressure injuries over time by more than 80%," Christenson said. "And now they're spreading that learning to other parts of their organization."
Christenson reiterates that while she's been a caregiver by profession, she's always had a teacher's heart. Combining her passions to provide growth and learning experiences for healthcare leaders brings her tremendous joy.
"I love when you can see them begin to think differently. When they go back and then apply that new learning to create meaningful outcomes in their organization like improving clinical care or engaging their employees to improve safety by helping to shape a better culture, it's just so gratifying." she said. "It's kind of like that little rock you skip across a pond causing continuous ripples — the impact is almost endless."