April 22, 2009
By Maxie McCoy, Lehigh University 2010
The responsibilities of a team captain require unparalleled feats of leadership and commitment. So much so that it is difficult to imagine how any golf captain could also take on the responsibility of writing an entire curriculum to improve the way health care is organized and delivered at a local hospital. However, watching Will Robinson, a senior captain of the Lehigh men's golf team, scribble explanatory pictures about heath care systems and move about as he gives a compelling explanation of his curriculum for the residency program at St. Luke's Hospital, it is apparent that a deep passion is driving him--a passion that has also characterized his successful athletic career at Lehigh.
As Robinson's years wrap up this weekend at the Patriot League Championship in West Point, New York, he leaves behind memories of tremendous success both on and off the greens. Last year Robinson was Lehigh's top finisher in six matches including the Patriot League Tournament where he placed 11th overall. This year Robinson serves as a captain of the team and has led the Brown and White in both the Bucknell Invitational and the GEICO Intercollegiate. "He has been our best player for the last two seasons," says Head Coach Henry D'Alberto `97. With his final tournament approaching, D'Alberto predicts Robinson will play his best golf yet.
Collegiate golf isn't the only thing wrapping up at the end of the month for Robinson. For the past two years he has served as the president of the Student Athlete Executive Council where he gained valuable perspective on organizational leadership, which he says has added to his understanding of the need for improvement, and how to measure such improvement in systems of health care.
Robinson has been working with Dr. Joel Rosenfeld, the Chief Academic Officer at St. Luke's, on a joint project intended for the residency program, which overviews systems and changes to reduce harm in hospitals and in settings where care is administered. "The curriculum I have been working on with Will is on patient safety," explains Rosenfeld. "We want to improve patient safety because various organizations have shown that things happen that shouldn't happen and we want to educate our physicians and give them training," Dr. Rosenfeld said.
To understand the importance of this curriculum, Robinson explains that first it must be understood that a patient's safety has become the mainstay of medical practice, and instances of patient harm can drastically be reduced by reforming systems in health care. For example, Robinson details the importance of team leadership in the medical field because communication errors are the principle cause for medical mistakes in the delivery setting. There is a need for structured communication programs, he says, to build in redundancy and thus, reduce the likelihood of a misunderstanding.
As a decision maker for the Student Athlete Executive Council and a teammate with notable responsibility resting on his shoulders, Robinson understands firsthand the need for effective communication and a shared vision to successfully lead-- just a few of the lessons he learned from his leadership training as a captain. "I believe the next generation of physicians will be called upon to be team leaders, to inspire a collective vision and to build positive relationships that are centered around delivering effective care," Robinson said. "Leadership in the delivery of care setting will reduce harm and medical error, and St. Luke's is full of great team leaders."
This curriculum, just like golf, hasn't been void of challenge. Golf has provided Robinson with a number of lessons that have allowed him to successfully deal with the obstacles of this proposal, which began as a summer project and grew into a full year effort because of its breadth and scope. "Golf is incredibly frustrating. It's a mind game and you cannot over think it or it will drive you crazy. At the same time I have learned to motivate myself despite external factors and obstacles," he shared.
The contributions Robinson has made to the surrounding community are unparalleled, and he has no intentions of stopping. This summer Robinson will work in Washington D.C. at the Alliance for Health Reform, which is a nonpartisan group that seeks to offer opinion leaders an unbiased source of information so they can understand the roots of the nation's health care problems and the trade-offs posed by competing proposals for change, according to the Alliance's mission statement.
After the summer endeavor in Washington, Robinson toys with the idea of going to medical school. Robinson's father is a psychiatrist, and while he attributes his father with significant influence, it has been the experience at St. Luke's that has defined his interest in health care reform. Dr. Rosenfeld says he would love to see Robinson go on to be a physician or a surgeon noting that Robinson "will succeed in anything he does. I took him on rounds and through operation rooms and he's just a people person. He'll do very well in medicine."
Obtaining a medical degree, according to Robinson, would expand his ability to improve health systems on a grassroots level, while providing him the opportunity to do something special: care for patients.
Wherever exactly the road leads for Robinson, he will continue to seek improvements for health care. "I've always really enjoyed this on some level because of my very broad interests. The idea of health care improvement is very eclectic; it draws on a variety of different academic practices to make something better," he explains. Robinson leaves a legacy of advancement whether it was aiding in the education of local physicians, in making athletic programs more effective or in motivating his teammates to reach their potential. His contributions are a testament to just how far passion can drive you.
Robinson and his Mountain Hawk teammates begin their quest for a Patriot League Championship on Saturday, April 25 when they head to New York to compete at the 2009 Patriot League Golf Championship. The final round gets underway on Sunday, April 26.