Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Char Woods

EMPA - 2010

Patient AdvocateNYU Medical Center

What is the role of the patient advocate?

It’s not only imperative in the current health care market to increase patient satisfaction, but it’s the right thing to do. We want to be proactive in terms of what the patients want, value and need, addressing small issues before they turn into big problems. These issues range from better communication with their health team to different food or creating a less stressful experience.

I do daily rounds with a nurse manager or a charge nurse and we ask patients directly if they have any questions or concerns that they’d like to be addressed. My goal in making rounds is to introduce myself to patients and let them know that I can support them in this unfamiliar and often scary environment. I can step in immediately to help them and their families. Also, I want to make sure that patients understand that they’re also part of the team and should play an active role in making decisions about their care. Many patients don’t know how to take on that role and are nervous that they will be perceived as demanding, or that doctors won’t want listen to them. Patients may need a lot of support. Patient advocates hear their complaints and try to turn around difficult situations.

What made you decide to get an EMPA at Wagner?

I was a freelance television producer for more than 25 years, and I decided that I wanted to go back to working for a nonprofit or public organization and that getting a master’s degree would open up a lot of doors. I started working at Trickle Up, an international microfinance organization, writing development proposals, and it was there that I met several people who were in Wagner’s MPA program. The program sounded exciting and the networking aspect was appealing.

Did you find Wagner to be a rewarding experience?

The program was perfect for me and I loved being in school. I loved the classes (especially those taught with the case studies) and talking about policy issues and the role of leadership and management. The EMPA program offered an exciting combination of new concepts and reinforced things I already knew and wanted to delve into more deeply. There was also a big emphasis on networking, which was really rewarding. Hearing from people in the field and having the opportunity to make those contacts was invaluable. I actually met a colleague who helped me land my current job. We bonded through the shared experience of going through the EMPA program and she encouraged me join her in health care. We work very closely together now.

Were there any skills you gained at Wagner that have been particularly useful/relevant to your career?

Wagner gave me a framework for looking at policy issues and the strategic management skills that I use everyday. This combination of a theoretical framework and concrete skills and tools has been very helpful in my role as a patient advocate.

What are your future career goals?

I really enjoy working with patients because it’s bigger than improving their individual hospital experiences. I see between 40 and 60 patients each day; my goal is to spot the trends and issues, such as bottlenecks, and to alert the hospital administrators who can address and change the systemic problems. The hospital has put a big focus this kind of improvement through rapid intervention experiences and a lean management program in the last few years. I see myself as a champion of change within the hospital system as well as for patients, and I hope to advance to working in management in the department.

Do you have any thoughts for people who are thinking about getting an EMPA from Wagner?

I absolutely would—and do—recommend the program to many people. It provides a strong foundation for understanding policy and the latest trends across the public sector. It employs accomplished faculty and creative support staff. And because Wagner is so connected in the New York community, there are a host of valuable opportunities for networking.