Dr. Deirdre McCaughey | Building quality improvement in Alberta

By Julia Dick

May 5, 2018

This story originally appeared in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. 

New, change and projects — these are the three consistent qualities that Dr. Deirdre McCaughey identifies in her varied and successful career. Another aspect is her deep care for improving the health care system, which has taken her on a journey across North America.

Deirdre’s first career was in retail, where she gained hands-on experience in management strategies. She eventually decided to train as a physical therapist at the University of Manitoba and realized that she wanted to do more to improve the delivery of care. “With my experience as a care provider and long career in management, I kept looking at how hospitals were run and thinking, ‘This is so inefficient.’”

She completed both her MBA and PhD at the University of Manitoba before moving to the United States, first as a faculty member at PennState (2007-2015), and then to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). While in America, Deirdre was exposed to the field of process improvement. “My research moved from the micro level of the care provider, to looking at the system level to analyze how things are built, how they function and flow, and how all of that impacts outcomes for patients and families, as well as care providers.”

In her new role as an associate professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Department of Community Health Sciences and an affiliate of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and W21C Program, she’s excited by the university’s potential to drive change in the system. The University of Calgary, she contends, is well-positioned to become a leader in driving health care quality improvement through education.

“This is the eighth year that W21C is running its Certificate Course in Patient Safety and Quality Management in partnership with the Health Quality Council of Alberta, which puts it up there with the age of some of the major master’s programs in North America. W21C is a very unique centre, and so it’s an exciting experience for me to join the Cumming School here.”

Deirdre, who led the development of the Master of Science in Healthcare Quality and Safety at UAB as its inaugural program director, is currently working with a provincial team to conduct a quality and safety training analysis for Alberta. By connecting stakeholders from across the province — including Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta — the team hopes to identify training needs to improve health care delivery for the future.

In addition to her academic work, Deirdre spends as much time as possible in the outdoors and goes skiing every Sunday. For all the exciting twists and turns of her career, she’s happy to be back home and close to family. “I grew up in Alberta, so the mountains are my touchstone. They have a personality, and I never lose interest in looking at the personality that’s looking back at me.”

Tidbits from Deirdre

Best advice you’ve received: Cast a wide net and catch many fish. Throw back fish you don’t want, but you’ll also catch fish that you aren’t expecting.

Currently reading: “Lost City of Z” by David Grann, and “Voyager” which is the third book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Fun fact: My partner and I adopted a rescue dog in the summer. His name is Jackson, and he has so far been featured in every presentation that I’ve done internally here.