I grew up in a medical family. My eyes light up when I meet anyone who cares for patients, whether it’s a physician, a nurse, or a physical therapist. I passionately engage with health care issues that dominate headlines, as well as those you only read about in journals and wonky blogs.

Yet I am not a clinician. So what the heck do I do?

I help other health care people more effectively realize their visions.

Or, more colloquially, I help them get stuff done that they couldn’t get done otherwise.

If you’re interested, read on, and I will tell you a little bit more about what that means.

My Story

Once upon a time, I was going to be a historian of medicine. I was interested in the human stories and cultural forces that shaped care across the ages. The academic work I did in this space gave me a mental toolkit I still use to think critically about power, technology, and institutions. But in the end I decided that academia wasn’t for me, so I left Johns Hopkins with a Master’s.

A few years later, I found myself on a new career path as a social change strategist with the philanthropic think tank Insight Labs. Along with the group’s co-founders, I took on problems for lots of organizations you’ve heard of: NASA, the State Department, Starbucks, TED. While the topics were always different, the central question was always the same — what obstacle keeps this organization from realizing its vision, and how do we remove it?

We also took on similar problems for health care organizations like Harvard Medical School and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. When doing this work, I could feel my passion for care shining through. So I struck out on my own to work full-time solving problems for other people who share that passion.

My Skills

Here are some of the ways I’ve helped — and could help you too.

Strategy – I work closely with leaders to turn their passion for care into concrete projects. Refining ideas to make systems better and then shepherding those ideas to execution is my most important skill set. It informs everything else I do. For example, as an external strategist for the nursing communications team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I work to connect new communications efforts to long-term goals like achieving health equity. As the son of one of the nation’s first pediatric nurse practitioners, it’s a dream. You can see how some of this work is coming to fruition at www.shiftnursing.com

Research – I find new paths for understanding the experience of patients, clinicians, and others who are touched by our systems of care. As a former historian and journalist, I am a strong believer in understanding the stories of others and using them to achieve new insights. Some people think of it as quantitative research or ethnography, but to me it’s just asking the right questions. In one year-long research initiative, I met with dozens of ovarian cancer survivors to document their experience and identify opportunities to improve the system. You can read about this work at https://www.theovariancancerproject.com.

Communications – I help bridge the gap between specialists and non-specialists. The more somebody knows, the harder it can be to craft a simple, compelling message. It isn’t just a matter of finding the right words, but of achieving a mutual understanding and trust with experts. Creating that trust with scientists and clinicians helps me deliver a message that is accurate but also resonates with the target audience. I provided this kind of leadership for nursing subject matter experts at the Center to Champion Nursing in America. You can read some of the resulting work here.

FacilitationI design gatherings to achieve breakthroughs that wouldn’t happen otherwise. At Insight Labs, the core of every project was a three-hour intensive strategic session where we challenged organizations’ leaders and a team of brilliant outsiders to come up with a new approach. I’ve adapted the skills from that work to design strategy summits for organizations like the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and the nursing program of the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Here’s a video of me reflecting on some facilitation work with health care executives at the 10.10.10 summit in Denver.  

If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to me at andrew@albnelson.com. I am eager to hear about your passion for care and think about how we can work together.

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