Committed to quality: Faculty member makes long-term impact at Michigan Medicine
In 1971, the price of gas was 40 cents a gallon, the Walt Disney World Theme Park opened in Orlando, Florida — and Van Harrison, Ph.D., began his career at U-M.
“I came to the university as a doctoral student in social psychology, becoming a graduate assistant the very next year,” Harrison said. “My work has evolved since then — as the organization has given me so many wonderful opportunities over the years.”
Indeed, Harrison has spent the last 46 years making the most of those opportunities and helping Michigan Medicine become a leader in patient care, education and research.
A multitude of roles
Harrison is now a professor in the Department of Learning Health Sciences and director of the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Part IV program within the Quality Department, helping employees keep their board certifications in various medical specialties. He also serves as the academic lead for clinical care guidelines and as the process lead for ambulatory care guidelines at Michigan Medicine. Finally, he helps coordinate the teaching of quality improvement and patient safety across all levels of medical education.
While his resume is lengthy, Harrison’s career began in a simpler role — as an assistant research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, where his work focused on assessing and improving physician performance in delivering health care. Eventually, he became an assistant professor in the U-M Medical School, where his work with physicians expanded to include leading and then assisting the Office of Continuing Medical Education for the past three decades.
He also co-founded the clinical guidelines program for ambulatory care in 1996 and the MOC program in 2011. MOC helps U-M physicians and PAs identify projects in which they can participate that will help them fulfill their board certification in the quality improvement area. At its launch, the program was only the second of its kind in the country, and Harrison’s team has spent years informally and formally mentoring other institutions on developing their own MOC programs.
“The specific focus of my research and academic work has evolved every few years, so throughout my career I have always been involved in something new and exciting,” Harrison said.
Social psychology meets health care
Harrison credits his career growth to the training he received in social psychology.
“My background helps me consider what is occurring simultaneously at the individual, group and organizational levels. That helps me view health care through a different lens and see connections others may have missed,” Harrison said. “This multi-level perspective is essential to leading and managing change in complex systems like Michigan Medicine and allows me to better ‘diagnose’ problems in health care delivery and develop ‘treatments’ to improve it.”
Harrison’s important work has been felt by colleagues across multiple departments — and multiple generations.
“It is almost impossible to quantify the impact that Van has had on our organization,” said Steven J. Bernstein, M.D., M.P.H., chief quality officer for Michigan Medicine. “Through his work on the clinical care guidelines and maintenance of certification programs, he has helped make it easier for physicians to provide safe, quality care for our patients.”
Beyond Michigan Medicine
Harrison has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and is an active member of various national academic institutions.
On a more local level, Harrison was a founding member of the universitywide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Faculty Alliance and served as its coordinator for more than two decades. When not at work, he enjoys swimming, book club meetings, riding his bike, and attending musical and theatrical presentations.
While Harrison keeps himself busy outside of Michigan Medicine, the scope of his responsibilities keep him occupied while in the office. Not that he minds: “The opportunities to improve health care and the great people to work with make every day rewarding,” Harrison said. “That’s helped me shape a career that’s been more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.”