How Penn State Hershey Medical Center improved patient care by improving employee learning

When healthcare employees are engaged in their work, it means lower turnover, greater efficiencies and improved patient care. But many hospitals and health systems may be overlooking one key component that can drive higher staff engagement: Training and development.

That's what Glenn Cermak, MEd, MSEd, MBA, an organizational development specialist with Penn State Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center and the College of Medicine, discussed during a webinar hosted by Becker's Healthcare and sponsored by Cornerstone OnDemand. Brett C. Wilson, the practice leader for learning and development with Cornerstone OnDemand, also joined Mr. Cermak on the webinar.

There are several drivers of engagement in the healthcare industry, including leadership, goals and objectives, supervision, career development and work/life balance. "Learning can actually address all of those," Mr. Cermak said. "It can have an impact in all of these areas where our employees are saying we need these things to be a more engaged staff."

In light of that fact, Penn State Hershey decided to focus on making employee learning more interactive and easy to retain and apply in everyday work. The hospital also wanted employee learning to have an impact on patient care as well.

"It's clear that the better the training, the…better [employees are] going to remember what they learned. The better they remember what they learned, the more comfortable they're going to be when they're performing a procedure or using a piece of equipment," Mr. Cermak explained. "And if they feel more comfortable, they're going to be able to provide better care."

That's because when providers feel comfortable with the tasks they are performing, they can focus more on connecting with patients instead of having to focus on the minute tasks, he said.

To achieve those goals from employee learning, Penn State Hershey moved away from the lecture or PowerPoint-based learning strategy toward a more blended approach to learning with Cornerstone OnDemand. Mr. Cermak discussed how the learning program at the hospital changed in three areas of learning:


The hospital uses a tiered approach to on-boarding, involving hospital orientation, department orientation and unit orientation. One of the major changes post-Cornerstone implementation fell in department orientation. The hospital is now able to assign appropriate curricula automatically, as soon as a new employee is entered into the hospital, based on the employee's job code and department or cost center.

"We can target all of our trainings," Mr. Cermak said. For instance, the hospital can send on-boarding training that is specific to any new employee in the ICU, or specific to a nurse manager in the ICU.

Also, if the hospital hires a new manager or other leader, the on-boarding process gets started automatically using job codes. New managers are sent a welcome letter outlining what they need to do in their first six months, are set up for an acclimation meeting and assigned a curriculum in Cornerstone.

Required training

The new system of learning for required training helped keep both employees and managers engaged in the required training process, Mr. Cermak said. One way the hospital boosted engagement is by making checklists — that rate learning and competencies — more easily accessible to validators. "We've seen an increase in actual completion of the checklists because it's easier for them to get marked off now that it's on every computer and their mobile device," he said.

The checklists are also tied to learning opportunities, he said. If someone scores low on one area of the checklist, the system can automatically suggest remedial courses on that subject, be an e-learning or a live session. "We're able to do all of that seamlessly through these checklists," he said.

Another advantage that has been useful at Penn State Hershey is that managers can schedule reports, delivered via email, about how many people on their unit have completed mandatory training for things like nursing competencies or trauma care.

Personal/professional growth

In this realm, Penn State Hershey has made these online courses easier to navigate and made them tablet- and mobile-friendly. Also, the system is integrated with and includes post-tests and checklists to "make sure [employees] are actually following through with implementing the things they learned," Mr. Cermak said.

The future

Even with all of these advancements, Penn State Hershey still has plans to continue improving its learning system. According to Mr. Cermak, the hospital is working on expanding its personal development library, partnering with a local Penn State University campus and exploring social learning.

To view the recording of this webinar, click here

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