Sonia Hardern — ThinkPHC

Sonia Hardern, a member of PHC's Research & Design team.

How did you end up where you are now?
I always knew I wanted to go into health care, but I took kind of a strange route to get here. Growing up, I loved cartography and both the creativity and the precision required to make a map. As a result, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and had hopes of doing health mapping. I wound up spending 5 years working for the Centre for Health Evaluation & Outcomes Sciences, initially doing data collection on HIV/AIDS patients and then later working on cost-effectiveness analyses for pharmaceuticals. I completed my Masters in Health Administration at UBC and decided I wanted to get into operations. I started in Administrative Decision Support and was there for two years until I was given the amazing opportunity to be PHC’s administrative resident. After moving over to the Quality Improvement team I spent two years as a process improvement consultant for the Elder Care and Palliative Programs, as well as a member of PHC’s Research & Design (R&D) team. I’ve recently moved into a new role which allows me to focus on the R&D team’s work.

What is the Research & Design team?
The R&D team is a team that was created three and a half years ago when PHC’s Innovation Strategy was launched to try and solve longstanding organizational problems using creative methods. We use design thinking as our method of choice. It’s an approach that uses empathy to create a deep understanding of the user experience. This allows us to build solutions which will be meaningful for those that we are designing for. This approach works well when we have a question to answer without an identified solution. This method is common in the world of marketing and design where it has been used in creating the first computer mouse and redesigning consumer experiences, like when you walk into the Apple store. We’ve been looking to companies like Kaiser Permanente and the Mayo Clinic who have their own design thinking teams as examples of how to apply this in health care.

What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the people I get to work with. The ThinkPHC team is an inspiring team to be a part of. There is so much experience, knowledge and expertise on the team, and yet they are continuously looking out for the next learning opportunity and encouraging everyone to do the same. My primary project right now is the Residential Care for Me project, where I get to interact with our point-of-care staff and our residents. I’m really enjoying building relationships with the residents, families and staff. The residential care leaders are so passionate and compassionate. Being at the sites reminds me why we do this work and that what we’re doing is making a difference.

Tell me about the Residential Care for Me project.
Ultimately, the goal of the project is to create residential care homes where people want to live and work. The first step in the project is to get a better understanding of the residential care experience from all points of view.

Our leaders have identified increasing challenges in supporting our staff, families and residents, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause exactly because it’s such a complex system. The increasing complexity of the residents is definitely a big factor but we want to dig deeper. We’ve been shadowing staff and residents, talking with families, running focus groups and carrying out quality of life surveys. We’re going to be reviewing the information we’ve gathered to identify the main themes as we move into the next phase. We’re also looking to be more innovative when it comes to strategic partnerships, both to get the word out and to gather new perspectives from people outside of healthcare. I’m proud of this project and the work of the R&D team. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something really amazing that will allow us to be pioneers in the field of residential care.

What’s one thing most people wouldn’t know about your work?
I think people perceive our work to be very process driven, structured and rigid, but there’s actually a lot of creativity involved in improvement work. Every time I work on a new project, I try different tools and methods depending on what works best for that particular team. In my current role with the R&D team I get to bring out the five year old in me to doodle and draw, which is encouraged in design thinking.

What’s on your to-do list outside of work?
I volunteer for St. John Ambulance cadets so the biggest thing on my list right now is organizing a CPR-a-thon event for this summer. I’m halfway through a number of books that need finishing and with summer coming, I need to work on my golf swing.