“As one of the chief physician assistants at the Columbia University campus during the first wave of the pandemic, I often found that I wanted a ‘playbook,’ but nothing existed,” said Marianne Grandusky, PA-C, MPAS, chief physician assistant at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Having the ability to develop structure amidst chaos was necessary and oftentimes very challenging.”

Grandusky is one of five new fellows in the second cohort of the Responding to Epidemics and Crises in Health (REACH) fellowship, a collaboration between ICAP at Columbia University and the Dalio Center for Health Justice that provides a select group of NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) staff an opportunity to learn how to predict, manage, and lead robust responses to complex health emergencies. Fellows were nominated by senior leadership of NYP for their commitment to improving health care quality and access as well as their outstanding work performance during the pandemic.

The REACH fellowship – formed in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the NewYork-Presbyterian hospital system – aims to prepare health care leaders of tomorrow to lead robust responses to health emergencies and infectious disease outbreaks in New York City and beyond.

All fellows engage in week-long intensives and presentations from guest speakers on such topics as surveillance, crisis management and leadership, communication, and more. In addition to learning from global public health experts, fellows also develop their own capstone projects to identify and address gaps in the health care system.

“The curriculum blends learnings from both global and local crises,” said Fatima Tsiouris, MS, deputy director of Human Resources for Health Development at ICAP. “It’s taking local challenges and applying a global lens with the goal of fostering out-of-the-box thinking.”

“The REACH program will provide next-level thinking in an age where the unthinkable has happened,” said Geeta Nastasi, chief nursing informatics officer at NYP and incoming REACH fellow. “I hope to draw inspiration and think bigger, build better, and respond quicker.”

This REACH cohort will begin their fellowship experience by participating in a health care simulation. REACH fellows will be paired with physicians in the NYP Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) program to address a simulated health care scenario. Given details about a fictional hospital, the fellows are confronted with the challenge of a new health care emergency, much like hospitals were confronted with COVID-19. The teams must use the information they have about their assigned fictional hospitals – including budgets and staff details – to navigate through this emergency, develop solutions together, and make the hospital more successful as a whole.

The second cohort will also dedicate additional time to developing leadership and communication skills. While REACH fellows are already leaders in their own departments, the extended REACH leadership and communication intensive will help them become thought leaders, honing key interpersonal and social skills to drive change and development of robust systems, which are critical in managing any crisis.

“We began this fellowship amidst COVID-19; our first cohort of REACH fellows were truly inspirational in their commitment to responding to the crisis in their ‘day jobs’ while also coming together as a fellowship to effect change,” said Susan Michaels-Strasser, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, senior director of Human Resources for Health Development at ICAP. “Leaders often emerge from cauldron scenarios, and we had the privilege to guide, shape, and support leaders in a historic time. These leaders will forge stronger systems and responses to complex emergencies. In our second year, we have the chance to build on the first year’s accomplishments to grow a network of leaders locally and globally who identify, develop, and bring to scale best practices in crisis response.”

This new cohort of fellows, much like the inaugural group of fellows, represent different aspects of the health management system, leading activities within NYP that are focused on workforce development, health system infrastructure, bridging IT and clinical systems, supporting emergency and operational efficiencies, as well as psychological support.

While preparing for a health care emergency gives no guarantee of predicting all challenges before they arise, programs like the REACH fellowship, which utilizes what is known as an all-hazards approach, offer health care workers the opportunity to begin penning the ‘playbooks’ and building the toolkits necessary for creating successful hospital teams ready to serve the populations most in need of care when an emergency surfaces.

“A goal I have with participating in the REACH fellowship is to be able to easily identify areas of vulnerability within our system and to be able to incorporate strategies to offset those vulnerabilities,” added Grandusky. “We need a system that can bend and flex to the ever-changing health care climate. The physician assistants at NYP were an excellent example of this during the pandemic; however, we need a more formal method to evaluate the skills of a workforce and find ways to efficiently and expeditiously deploy staff to areas of greatest need. We were thrust into a new phase of health care where innovation was crucial.”

About ICAP

A major global health organization that has been improving public health in countries around the world for nearly two decades, ICAP works to transform the health of populations through innovation, science, and global collaboration. Based at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, ICAP has projects in more than 30 countries and is working side-by-side with ministries of health and local governmental, non-governmental, academic, and community partners to confront some of the world’s greatest health challenges. Through evidence-informed programs, meaningful research, tailored technical assistance, effective training and education programs, and rigorous surveillance to measure and evaluate the impact of public health interventions, ICAP aims to realize a global vision of healthy people, empowered communities, and thriving societies.

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