An innovative program is demonstrating how to create a better, more personal experience for patients, while providing invaluable learning —and earning — opportunities for future nurses.
The badges are easy enough to miss. Hanging from cerulean-blue lanyards on a wall of SMC’s Health Sciences Learning Center, they represent various roles and titles. Hospitalist. Transporter. Lab Tech. Family Member.
Teresa Lim Poy, the Learning Center’s coordinator, explains the significance of the badges. “It’s to remind our students,” she says, “of the different roles in a hospital setting that nurses have to coordinate with, collaborate with, and communicate with.
“And at the center of all that,” she adds, “is the patient that we do everything for.”
The badges illustrate a well-known truth: Nurses play a vital role in hospitals — not just in terms of clinical care, but as a link among doctors, technicians, and patients. But competing demands, staff shortages, and a constant stream of medical emergencies often cut into the ability of nurses to devote the time and attention needed to ensure patients feel connected. And when that happens, patient satisfaction scores can suffer.
That’s where innovative solutions like the OB Concierge Program come in. Launched earlier this year by the SMC Nursing Program and Providence Saint John’s Health Center, the program focuses on creating a warm and welcoming stay for patients at the Saint John’s OB unit — from the moment they walk through the hospital doors to their discharge time.
At the heart of the program are SMC nursing students who, as concierges, check in with new and expecting moms throughout the day, lend a friendly ear, relay messages to nurses, offer cookies during the unit’s designated Quiet Time, and more.
The program has already garnered rave reviews from those who matter the most: the patients.
“It’s just been an extra layer of comfort and support for new parents,” exclaims Lindsey, who had checked into Saint John’s over the weekend for the delivery of her daughter, Lilia. “The concierge program at Saint John’s has taken the best care of us. Even offering little things like cookies makes your stay here feel more like home.”
Using concierges to improve the patient experience in the OB ward began with Dr. Tiffany Grunwald, the director of the Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Saint John’s and a Santa Monica College Foundation board member. After discovering the ward had received poor patient satisfaction ratings, Grunwald checked in with staff. She found that nurses were overextended and overworked, leaving little time to spend with patients. So rather than pursue solutions that would create even more work for nurses, Grunwald searched for other ways of improving patients’ time in the ward.
“We asked ourselves: How can we elevate the patient experience? Make them feel like they haven’t been left alone in a room,” Grunwald says. “It seemed like there were easy ways to make that time better.”
She landed on the idea of adapting elements of the patient concierge model that other units at Saint John’s were using to meet patients’ needs. But rather than using the traditional hiring route for the position, Grunwald reached out to SMC to see if there was interest in making this opportunity available to students.
SMC turned out to be the perfect partner. Its two-year nursing program ranks among the best in California for an Associate degree in Nursing, boasting a 93.3% completion rate and a 95% hiring rate for its graduates. And just as important, the nursing faculty are big believers in innovating healthcare.
“We’re major players in quality improvement,” says Eric Williams, the Interim Associate Dean of the SMC Health Sciences Department. “We’re constantly looking at ways to improve the program, make it better, to develop partnerships like this that move the needle.”
Over several months, Williams and other faculty members met with Grunwald to plan the logistics. Everything had to be mapped out: students’ course loads, concierges’ scope of work, and the optimal number of students for this first cohort. It took over a year of planning and discussions,” observes Grunwald. “But the results were worth it.”
Funded by a grant from the Saint John’s Foundation, the OB Concierge Program has been an excellent opportunity for participating SMC nursing students, who learn firsthand what it means to be a nurse, and are paid for their work while doing so.
“It’s a huge learning experience,” says Monica, one of the concierges. “They were receptive to us being students and open to questions. And I had so many questions! To watch what staff do, see a different side of this unit, and see how everyone handles their roles. It’s been great.”
Sarah, another concierge, notes how working with mothers has helped her gain a deeper appreciation of the critical work nurses do.
“I’ve been there. I’ve been a new mom,” she explains. “So getting to interact with them on a daily basis has been a fantastic experience … Obviously, clinical skills are really important, but so is the ability to take a moment and talk to a new parent, make them know that they are heard and their opinion matters. That’s been really rewarding.”
The program has already drawn interest from others seeking to improve patient satisfaction scores in their own units.
“I would love to see that happen,” Grunwald says. “After we improved our patient satisfaction scores so tremendously, there’s been this tremendous excitement building around the opportunities afforded by this innovation. I do hope it will expand to other floors of the hospital.
“Nurses work really hard,” she adds. “They are definitely our heroes. They would love to sit down and spend time with patients. And when they can’t, it’s really nice to have the Santa Monica College nursing students there.”