‘Be a lifelong learner’: How Brook Watts, M.D., M.S., is encouraging improvement at all levels

January 19, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership, ,

Approximately a 4-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Brook Watts, M.D., M.S., began serving as chief quality officer in September 2022.
  • Watts said the goal of the Quality Department is to empower staff to “make positive changes in their environments and build a system that helps sustain those changes.”
  • She also emphasized the importance of continuing to learn, no matter what role you may hold in the organization.

Brook Watts, M.D., M.S., completed her residency at U-M nearly 20 years ago. Back in September 2022, she began her tenure as the new U-M Health chief quality officer.

As Watts gets reacclimated to the organization, Headlines spoke with her about the first few months in her new role, areas of focus for the Quality Department and advice for aspiring leaders.

Here’s what she had to say: 

Q: Can you reflect on the first few months as chief quality officer? What was it like being a resident here and then eventually holding this position 20 years later?

BW: My first couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind, both trying to reorient myself to Ann Arbor and the hospital system. I have been amazed by the growth and complexity of the system, and I think my biggest challenge has been learning how we all work together in this large organization. When you’re a resident learner, you only really have a ground-level view, and it’s hard to understand why things happen the way they do. But I think now, having a broad, system-level perspective, I understand all the different interfaces better. Things that I noticed when I was a learner here have begun to make a lot more sense.

I am also incredibly excited to be back seeing patients again. I think it’s a great reminder that we do all this work to take care of people who are at a very vulnerable moment in their lives. The idea that we can help fix systems so we can continue taking care of people is so special to me. That’s not something you get to see as clearly earlier in training.

Q: What are some areas the Quality Department will be focusing on over the next few months?

BW: We are very aligned with U-M Health’s BASE strategic priorities. These all make sense to us from a safety and quality perspective. I came in after the priorities were decided, but the great news is that those are exactly what I would have picked!

We are focusing quite a bit of energy on periprocedural safety. I think we all feel there are a lot of opportunities to make sure that when our patients are getting procedures and surgeries, they receive the safest care possible.

Another thing we are working on is infection prevention. I am incredibly grateful for our infection prevention partners, Amanda Valyko and Dr. Laraine Washer, for helping us make sure we are setting the highest standards in preventing catheter-associated urinary tract infections. This is an area we really want to make improvements in. So we are doubling down on best practices.

Lastly, I think emphasizing team-based care is important. In the Quality Department, we want to model respect for interdisciplinary expertise. I recognize that physicians do not carry expertise for all aspects of a patient’s care, and we care for patients in teams. One of the things we can do as leaders is help support the voices of those who are advocating for the patients or may have expertise for a patient. This could be a nurse, medical assistant, pharmacist or a family member.

Q: Sometimes quality work can seem pretty dense. How can it be broken down so that all faculty and staff feel like they have a stake in it?

BW: Really, what we want to do in the Quality Department is help empower individuals to make positive changes in their environments and build a system that helps sustain those changes. We are all here for the same reason, and we want to feel like our work is meaningful. When we do everything we can to support the best possible care for all, that is what brings meaning and joy to our work.

Q: What is one characteristic you think every leader should possess?

BW: Being a lifelong learner. I think it is so important to be open to learning and change. You can always learn something, whether that be from a book or the people around you. The second you are not open to learning, that’s when you really start to make mistakes. Even leaders can learn from others, wherever the expertise may sit.

Q: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?

BW: I really enjoy reading all kinds of things, mostly non-fiction. The most interesting book I’ve read lately is A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, which I highly recommend to anybody who likes to read. I also enjoy being outside, hiking and swimming.