“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”  Mahatma Gandhi

April is National Volunteer Month in the United States. As the president of the NAHQ board of directors, it is my privilege to recognize and honor all the healthcare quality professionals who serve NAHQ and each other as we work together to advance healthcare quality. In this spirit, I would like to introduce you to someone who has found remarkable success in her career by participating as an active member and volunteer with NAHQ. I hope her story inspires you as it continues to inspire me.

Michelle Scharnott, MBA, CPHQ, is the National Vice President, Business Development – Quality, Research Outcomes & Analytics at the American Heart Association (AHA). She started her healthcare career in skilled nursing, then pursued her passion for healthcare quality by joining the staff at the AHA. Early in her career at the AHA, she participated in the launch of the first clinical quality program using evidence-based guidelines so crucial to patients receiving the right care at the right time. That was 18 years ago and today, although Michelle’s scope and influence have increased, she continues to work to leverage the science of quality to evaluate measures, make changes, and improve client outcomes.

Michelle’s drive to be of service and improve the lives of others gives her career focus and meaning. Her role at the AHA is now centered around business development and strategic planning. She works with quality teams at other associations and healthcare organizations to make sure that guideline-based initiatives are put fully into practice. “We are working to understand care barriers and the impact of social determinants. We want to know what is behind the check box and what is happening to the patients being missed. This helps us to understand the improvements we need to make.”

I first met Michelle when we were both serving on NAHQ’s Certification Commission. Her service to NAHQ, however, began when she volunteered to review poster abstracts for the NAHQ annual conference. Michelle remembers, “I reviewed around eighty abstracts to see who would get to make a poster presentation. I loved the opportunity to read other people’s abstracts and see what they are working on.” By reviewing poster abstracts she was not only supporting the work of NAHQ, but she was also gaining what she considered to be an invaluable insight into what professionals in different settings were learning about quality improvement. Michelle’s success is a reflection not only of her hard work, but also of her curiosity and dedication to life-long learning. Volunteering has become one of the ways she can leverage all three.

Michelle is in the interesting position of not only being a volunteer for NAHQ, but also interacting with volunteers at the AHA. When I asked her to reflect on being a staff leader collaborating with volunteer leaders she shared, “Our volunteers are key opinion leaders coming to us from different disciplines within cardiovascular disease, and distinct roles such as nurses, physicians, and quality professionals. I work with them through different committee structures to get their input, feedback, and redirection. They are key in our decision making so we consider ourselves to be a volunteer-driven organization. We would not be able to do the work if not for the dedication and generosity of our volunteers.”

I know first-hand the contribution Michelle has made to NAHQ as a volunteer and, with her busy schedule, I am hugely impressed and grateful that she remains so involved. When I asked her what motivates her to continue to maintain engagement with NAHQ, Michelle responds without missing a beat: “Being a member of NAHQ and a CPHQ helps me be a credible voice when working to dig deep and improve that patient journey through quality improvement. And as a NAHQ volunteer, I hear about the work others are doing in a way that I never would have had the opportunity to do so otherwise.”

Michelle is excited to see the growing prominence of the NAHQ brand within the healthcare industry. “We are seeing CPHQ as a position requirement now all the time. I look at it for my employees. That recognition that is extremely important. And it keeps growing.” That recognition would not be possible, however, if not backed by continual advancement made possible by the dedicated work of volunteers like Michelle.

Finally, Michelle offers this advice for all those considering volunteering. “Quality professionals need to QI themselves. This is the opportunity volunteering for NAHQ offers and it is incredible.” As a person who continues to prioritize my professional work as a NAHQ volunteer, I could not agree more. Thank you, Michelle, and all of you who share your time and talents to grow with NAHQ. We could not do it without you.

Emmett T. Ervin, MPA, CPHQ
NAHQ President

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