How the HSPI Conference makes me a better industrial engineer in healthcare

By Isaac Mitchell
Lean coordinator, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

After training to be an industrial engineer, I left college ready to take on the manufacturing world. The first six years of my career in manufacturing ranged from boat building, to automotive, to machining operations. The experience and exposure was great, but I was looking for more. I was looking for a place where I could apply my talents and skills to improve people’s lives. As a member of Institute of Industrial Engineers and subscriber to IE magazine, I started reading and learning more about how an industrial engineer can positively impact the healthcare industry.

So, five years ago I made the jump to healthcare to practice and apply industrial engineering tools to enhance the patient experience, increase quality, deliver better value, and improve patient outcomes. The industrial engineer’s role in healthcare is relatively new, so one of the best ways I have found to learn is from my peers that are practicing and applying what they have learned in the real world. IIE’s Society of Health Systems Process Improvement Conference is an outstanding forum for new knowledge, networking with peers, and rallying the team to continue the great work of Industrial Engineers in healthcare. The following are key points from this year’s conference.

New Knowledge

  • Key Takeaways:  Each year I learn about new and innovative ways industrial engineers, clinicians, architects, and others fields are improving healthcare. The conference offers tracks to fit all interests such as lean, information technology, healthcare reform, and change management. With each distinct track, attendees can customize their experience to fit their needs. These are the top three things I learned and will apply over the next year.
    • Value Stream Mapping: I attended Karen Martin’s pre-conference workshop on value stream mapping. I plan to apply several techniques including incorporating the process owners in the room with decision makers to create the changes in real time.  I also learned to focus on clearly defining the current state before we look for problems and improvements in the future.
    • Management with SPC: Mark Graban gave a great talk on how we can apply Statistical Process Control, SPC, to make better informed decisions. I will use this to follow trends in the number of monthly kaizens and problems solved in departments throughout the hospital to make more informed decisions on the health of our continuous improvement program.
    • Coaching Others: Alan Gleghorn gave a great keynote on his work as CEO of the Christie Clinic. Anyone who has seen him speak before knows that he is an engaging and thought provoking speaker.  He mixes humor with serious insight. As a problem solving coach and manager in my current role, I will add a new phrase to my vocabulary from Alan’s keynote, “How can I help you win more often?” How many of us would like to hear that each and every day from our leaders, managers, and co-workers?
    • Challenge: Those three items are just my key learnings. Each attendee’s experience will be different. Over the next year, everyone should conduct PDSAS. That is not a typo: Plan, Do, Study, Act, Share. Apply what you’ve learned by putting on your white lab coat and experimenting like scientists. Let’s talk about what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change. Take this new knowledge and share it with our peers at next year’s conference.


  • Key Takeaways: I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people at this conference and learning about their background and experiences. The narrow aperture that is healthcare process improvement makes it easy to build relationships and leverage the vast knowledge of more than 300 attendees.
  • Challenge: Try to meet and network with as many people as possible. Meet a new face during every session and during each break. Also, make an effort to communicate throughout the year.  Call on your network when you run into issues or need an expert opinion.

Rally the Team

  • Key Takeaways: Hearing presenter after presenter share accomplishments on quality and safety improvements, cost reductions, improved employee morale and high patient satisfaction reminds you that this is worthwhile work. These inspirational success stories leave you charged and ready to take on the world. This is a revival, not a conference.
  • Challenge: Take this excitement and passion for healthcare back to your workplace. We should never get tired of doing what is good. Success will prevail for those that do not give up.

I look forward to applying what I learned at this year’s SHS conference, keeping up with my network over the next year, and apply my passion of improving healthcare to enhance the patient experience, increase quality, deliver better value, and improve patient outcomes. I hope to see old friends and new faces at next year’s conference. Until then, I challenge you to apply what you have learned, keep in touch, and never grow tired of applying the worthwhile work of healthcare process improvement.

Isaac Mitchell has more than 11 years of experience driving change in organizations utilizing Lean methodology and techniques. The valuable experience gained while working at Toyota North American Manufacturing Headquarters has enabled him to bring successful and time-proven methodologies to the healthcare field. As lean coordinator at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Isaac is heading up a hospital-wide lean strategic initiative focusing on improving processes, reducing unwanted variation, eliminating waste and creating a culture of staff engagement in problem solving.  Isaac holds a MBA from Xavier University, a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Tennessee and a lean black belt certificate from the Institute of Industrial Engineers. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is a private, independent, not-for-profit Comprehensive Regional Pediatric Center located in Knoxville, Tenn.

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