Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to carve out a career niche in patient safety, you had to be resourceful — and a tad lucky.

I was a bedside nurse at Johns Hopkins then, and my manager was helping me find a track for promotion. Noting that I submitted far more adverse-event reports than anyone else, she suggested I look into patient safety.

There were no courses or textbooks, but work to eliminate preventable harm was building momentum here. I attended our hospital's first-ever patient safety conference, where I heard about the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP), an intervention to improve local safety culture and teamwork. With no set of directions or CUSP tools — they didn't exist yet — we launched CUSP on my unit, and we took on hazards identified by staff members. For example, we created a labeling system for central catheters to remind us when it was time to change them to reduce the risk of infections.

I started participating in meetings of our medication safety committee, where I learned what happened to some of the reports I submitted. Medication safety officer Bob Feroli meticulously walked us through the cases, drilling down to their root causes and weighing the strength of different interventions. Much of what I know about system change I learned from Bob.

I was hooked, and I knew I would focus my career on health care improvement. But I had been fortunate. Were it not for an insightful manager, generous mentors and an institution that had committed early to patient safety, I wouldn't have had that chance.

Today, you don't always have to figure it out yourself. Conferences, workshops and online learning programs in patient safety and quality improvement are growing, and more universities offer advanced degrees in the field. Still, many health care professionals and students want to learn more but don’t know where to go.

That's why I'm excited about Johns Hopkins's new Patient Safety Specialization, a set of seven, 4-week-long online courses on Coursera that provide a broad base of concepts, tools and strategies in the field. Led by subject matter experts from the Armstrong Institute, these MOOCs — massively open online courses — will be useful to health care professionals and students who are either considering a career focus in patient safety and quality improvement, or who have recently taken on new roles in these areas. Even seasoned safety and quality professionals should find it time well spent, as the course is full of examples of successful safety programs and practical ideas for success.

For each course, a new session starts every two weeks.

Course content is typically delivered via video lectures and reading assignments. All of this, as well as discussion forums, are available for free to learners who elect to audit courses. For those seeking  a Coursera certificate, there is a $49 a month fee to unlock quizzes and submit assignments for fellow learners to grade. Learners can also apply to Coursera for financial aid.

The specialization is framed around the key considerations in undertaking a patient safety or quality improvement project. The first two courses provide a basis for this work, by covering the history of patient safety, seminal reports in the field, and key concepts such as high reliability, systems thinking and safety culture.

With this foundation established, remaining courses are organized around the steps in health care improvement projects. For example, how do you decide on scope, goals and metrics for your project? How can you translate scientific evidence into bedside practice? What strategies can help you to engage stakeholders?

The specialization takes a show-and-tell approach. We don't just discuss the importance of reporting adverse events; we'll explain how we triage them, follow up and ensure that they don't go into the proverbial black hole. We don't just encourage you to run a "pre-mortem" exercise before starting a project; we demonstrate how it’s done in a video.

The specialization builds towards a capstone project — the seventh course — in which you will draw on content from all of the courses, as you analyze scenarios, make decisions and plan interventions.

While you shouldn't expect to be an expert practitioner upon completing the specialization, you will have an incredible breadth of knowledge and tools that you can use immediately and also build upon for future learning opportunities.

This specialization is the first to be created by our school of medicine's office of online education, which was formed about two years ago. Their decision to focus on patient safety speaks to the demand for more educational opportunities in this field. Working with that team has been a true partnership, bringing together the Armstrong Institute's subject matter experts with skilled instructional designers.

My only regret is that this wasn't available to me 15 years ago.

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With New Online Patient Safety Specialization, Class is Always in Session, 4.5 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

Other Learning Opportunities Patient Safety and Quality Improvement

In addition to the new Patient Safety Specialization on Coursera, Johns Hopkins offers additional ways to build your skill set:

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