A taxi pulls up to the curb at McMaster University’s main campus, where a group of alumni are setting up a large presentation board.
“Are all of you the professors?” the taxi driver hollers from his car.
Amused with his quip, he approaches the alumni, who are putting the finishing touches on their display.
“Well, we’re actually here to talk to you,” one of them replies.
Usually end-of-term days are quiet on main campus, but things are about to get much livelier. It’s 100in1Day across Canada, which aims to inspire residents to activate 100 thought-provoking ideas to transform their city all on one day.
As part of McMaster’s 100in1 efforts, alumni from the HLA’s Emerging Health Leaders (EHL) and Innovation by Design (IBD) programs are using design thinking to engage Hamiltonians on their experiences with health or healthcare. The purpose behind this ‘empathy mapping’ is to provide the group with a more nuanced understanding of what health problems might need solving in the community.
Intrigued by the alumni’s design thinking approach, the taxi driver shares one of his personal experiences.
“I had a rash on my arms, all over my body,” he says. “It just wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried. Doctors dismissed me at every step along the way.”
“How did you feel in that moment?” EHL alumnus Grace Billing asks.
The taxi driver pauses reflectively, before sharing one word: “Disappointed.”
After trying out an elimination diet, he found out that he was allergic to nuts. But this was only discovered after several visits to doctors and specialists who “didn’t seem to be interested in the root cause.”
Billing says the taxi driver’s story really connects to the whole point of design thinking.
“Design thinking is all about really understanding the user. What do they think? What do they feel? What are their experiences?” she says. “That can be applied to how physicians treat their patients.”
Throughout the day, more stories trickled in, populating a growing empathy map of how Hamiltonians experience health and healthcare. While some responses were positive – often noting the importance of Canada’s universal healthcare system – many patients felt unheard or dismissed by their physicians.
Billing is a member of the HLA Alumni Ambassador Committee, a group that spearheads and supports continued health leadership education and community outreach. Through initiatives, such as 100in1 Day, the HLA’s Alumni Ambassadors are continuing to bridge health and business beyond their studies with the Academy.
Co-chair of the committee George Keliny says the main goal of the 100in1 Day workshop was to highlight the importance of empathy.
“In how we deal with people, it’s important to know how the other person feels,” Keliny says. “It’s about putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.”
Anna D’Angela, 100in1 Day facilitator and co-chair of the committee, says her continued engagement with the HLA has enriched her skills and expanded her network.
“I’ve continued to stay engaged with the HLA as an Alumni Ambassador because I want to stay connected to and support the exciting and innovative work the Academy is doing,” D’Angela says.
“Plus, it is a wonderful way keep in touch with the friends and colleagues I have made through the various events and programs!”