Assuring the Highest Quality of Care

Global
Volunteer Story
Volunteer nurse and clinical coordinator Mamta Shah with a patient during a 2017 Operation Smile medical mission. Photo: Anja Ligtenberg.
Volunteer nurse and clinical coordinator Mamta Shah with a patient during a 2017 Operation Smile medical mission. Photo: Anja Ligtenberg.

Our promise of improving health and dignity during the COVID-19 pandemic endures. We're helping front-line health workers stay safe, nourished and empowered to better serve their patients by providing life-saving supplies and equipment, as well as remote training to bolster their response. We’re also providing nutritional assistance, hygiene kits and virtual health services to support people and their health needs so they can thrive. If you can, when you can, help us keep our promise to care for children and create hope for tomorrow.

When it comes to our work of delivering exceptional cleft care to people around the world, the safety of our patients has been, and will always be, our greatest priority.

As an organization comprised of compassionate and selfless medical professionals who go above and beyond by donating their time, energy and expertise to our mission, it wasn’t a surprise when some of those volunteers expressed interest in doing more with their volunteerism.

As many volunteers voiced a desire to serve on more medical missions, Operation Smile’s medical quality team created an innovative solution: The team established a position that not only presents volunteers with more opportunities to learn and care for patients, but further strengthens and enhances our safety protocols. 

Bryan Zimmerman, Operation Smile Assistant Vice President of Quality Assurance, said that the inspiration behind creating a volunteer quality assurance (QA) officer position was to continue improving upon two of the organization’s top priorities, the safety of our patients and the quality of their surgical results. QA officers’ evaluations are designed to bolster the knowledge, practices and abilities of our medical volunteers around the world. 

“The only way to effectively create a culture of safety and quality is by showing that you care,” Bryan said. 

Operation Smile Assistant Vice President of Quality Assurance, Bryan Zimmerman, center, speaks to a mother and patient during a 2019 medical mission in Antsirabe, Madagascar. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.
Operation Smile Assistant Vice President of Quality Assurance, Bryan Zimmerman, center, speaks to a mother and patient during a 2019 medical mission in Antsirabe, Madagascar. Photo: Lorenzo Monacelli.

After creating the curriculum for the QA training program, Bryan and his team received applications from more than 35 volunteers from countries including Italy, Mexico, the U.K., Australia, Norway, South Africa and the U.S.

Of that total, 11 volunteers participated in and passed the five-day tactical training and education course that took place at Operation Smile Headquarters in November and December of 2019. 

Volunteer clinical coordinator Mamta Shah checks the vitals of a patient after surgery. Photo: Anja Lightenberg.
Volunteer clinical coordinator Mamta Shah checks the vitals of a patient after surgery. Photo: Anja Lightenberg.

“Simulation stations were set up that provided opportunities to touch and feel what different parts of the mission are like,” said Mamta Shah, a volunteer nurse, clinical coordinator and QA officer. “The final was a walk through, an actual chart audit and mission audit twice. This was an incredibly valuable experience for volunteers.” 

Posing as staff and volunteers, actors intentionally made mistakes and missteps during the mission simulation that the QA officers would be tested to identify. They were assessed during each of the mission phases: screening, pre-operative, anesthesia, surgery, recovery and post-operative. 

For Rodney Kapunan, a volunteer pre- and post-operative nurse with years of mission experience, the QA training instilled in him a new appreciation and respect for all roles and specialties. 

“Training was an eye-opener for every one of us, because even though we are seasoned volunteers with more than 10 missions and experienced in our fields, we are now tasked to oversee the processes of the whole mission,” Rodney said.

Pre- and post-operative nurse Rodney Kapunan with a patient. Photo courtesy of Rodney Kapunan.
Pre- and post-operative nurse Rodney Kapunan with a patient. Photo courtesy of Rodney Kapunan.

“Operation Smile is distinguished for being an association that follows the quality standards established,” said Rosa Sanchez, a volunteer nurse, clinical coordinator and quality assurance officer for Operation Smile Mexico. “We guarantee that patients receive good attention and give the family full security that their kids are in good hands.”

Slated to attend medical missions throughout 2020, the certified QA officers like Rodney and Rosa were ready to step into their new role and empower volunteer teams to continue delivering the highest quality of care possible.

But those plans were upended when the coronavirus pandemic began. Only two officers were able to attend their scheduled missions before Operation Smile’s decision to postpone all international travel.

As one of those two volunteers, Rodney witnessed the medical quality team's vision come to life.

“There were a lot of great ideas that were brought forward by some volunteers during my last missions in Egypt,” Rodney said. “I reminded them that this organization is always improving, and I love to hear their suggestions on process improvement and patient safety.”

Adapting to the pandemic, Bryan and his team now deliver online refresher courses that make sure the officers are prepared to reach their highest potential whenever it becomes safe to travel again. 

But those courses weren’t the only component to transition online: Two additional QA officers received training and became credentialed through virtual training.

With a new dynamic, Bryan and his team worked diligently to create a virtual QA education course that aligned with the same goals and experiences as the in-person training. 

The curriculum included informative presentations, questionnaires addressing specific concerns and a virtual fact-find of a local hospital.

Operating room nurse Amanda Stahlhut during a patient's operation. Photo courtesy of Amanda Stahlhut.
Operating room nurse Amanda Stahlhut during a patient's operation. Photo courtesy of Amanda Stahlhut.

“An opportunity for me to contribute to those great efforts is an honor,” said Amanda Stahlhut, an operating room nurse who underwent the virtual training. “I pledge to not lose momentum or motivation with the current pandemic delays, knowing that this QA program will transform how quality and safety is viewed and actioned.”

Even some volunteers like Rodney say that they are using their QA officer training to be better prepared for working on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Especially when I’m putting on my personal protective equipment, I always have someone double check if I missed anything,” Rodney said. “I also practice good habits in my practice to better protect myself, my coworkers, patients, guests and family from contracting the virus, thus cultivating a culture of safety.” 

The 13 officers, diversified by country as well as specialty, represent a multitude of positions including a surgeon, pediatrician, bio medical technician, two anesthesiologists and various nursing specialties.

And as committed advocates for safety and care, the QA officers also embody Operation Smile's unwavering drive to improve and evolve in order to meet the needs of every patient.

“We all make mistakes. We can evaluate our mistakes and see how we can improve on them,” Mamta said. “Increased efficiency and safety leads to better team morale and preparedness, which then leads to improved patient outcomes, improved patient satisfaction and better quality of care.” 

Photo: Rohanna Mertens.
Photo: Rohanna Mertens.