March 6, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 12

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    Learning by degrees


    From CPR classes to master's degrees, Academy brings new depth to 'employee education' For the first time, it is possible to earn an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree on the University campus without reading Thucydides. Interested parties can also learn how to stop smoking, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, avoid getting sued and understand the Hospitals' billing process, all without cracking open The Peloponnesian Wars.

    The University hasn't turned its back on Western Civilization -- the degrees, which are granted by other colleges, are awarded through the University of Chicago Hospitals Academy, a comprehensive, on-the-job or after-hours education and training program.

    The Hospitals established the Academy in January 1993 to offer work-related courses ranging from basic workplace literacy to advanced management training. The program quickly caught on and enrollment has grown steadily.

    In its first year of operation, the Academy offered more than 83 different courses. In 1996, the Academy's fourth year of operation, more than 6,000 employees and students participated in over 300 courses.

    The classes were originally designed to help to plug the skill gaps that can occur in a rapidly evolving industry such as health care. As providers race to keep up with the shifting currents of health care reform, employees must constantly develop new sets of skills. These range from new forms of data processing and other computing skills to advanced management training, all of which are designed to encourage greater employee involvement, resolve conflicts and increase efficiency.

    As the need for employee education has grown, so has the Academy's course listing. The 16-page quarterly course listing now includes everything from training in basic skills, such as medical terminology and CPR, to wellness classes on yoga and aerobics and classes on staff supervision -- how to interview, hire, train and motivate personnel. Recent additions include courses on Spanish for health care providers, dealing with domestic violence, and programming for children in grades 7 through 10.

    The Academy also helps employees earn college degrees while working. A pilot program, offered in conjunction with Harold Washington College, has already helped many employees earn associate degrees. The program has now been expanded to enable workers to earn a bachelor's or master's degree in health care administration through Governors State University -- all without leaving the University of Chicago campus. Nearly 400 employees have already participated in the on-site program, with 96 percent completing the coursework for a degree. "These students bring more life experience, maturity and commitment to class," said Harold Washington College instructor Bob Segel.

    "Our goal is to build an educational pipeline, to help employees gain credentials and position themselves for new opportunities at the Hospitals," said Judy Schueler, Director of UCH Academy. "We offer convenience and reduce the financial barrier to education." The Hospitals pay 75 percent of tuition costs for eligible employees.

    Other programs cater to employees who already have advanced degrees. A two-course series, for instance, updates physicians on the latest in risk management. Another new course teaches doctors how to meet the recently revised standards for Medicare Teaching Physician Billing Standards, a controversial reform of reimbursement practices that has resulted in audits and multimillion-dollar fines for teaching hospitals nationwide. The Academy also has been taking its show on the road. Presentation of Academy programs at national meetings attracted attention from other health care systems, who recognized a need for similar programs. Academy staff have been acting as consultants, developing customized presentations for other hospitals. They have already completed consultation contracts with health care systems in Dallas and in Hartford, Conn.

    Last fall, the Academy helped prepare 800 UCH employees who would work in the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, which opened in November. The three-part process, which began with a detailed tour of the facility, included education about the advanced clinical, environmental and record-keeping systems created for the building. The training also emphasized safety preparedness, patient satisfaction measurement and role playing of customer service scenarios.

    "The physical facility is spectacular," Schueler said, "but architectural features don't mean anything unless staff members demonstrate service-based behavior that makes patients feel confident they chose the right place for care.

    "With the training and education provided by the Academy, we're helping ensure the best care for our patients throughout the Hospitals," she added. "Besides, doing something positive for yourself and learning something new always feels good. It's great to be able to help make that happen."