Bernadette Catherine O’Connell de la Flor

Student Spotlight

Bernadette Catherine O’Connell de la Flor

Place of Residence

Cambridge, Massachusetts; Lima, Peru

Program

Master of Liberal Arts, Management

Professional Field

Healthcare Management

Prior Education

Bachelor's degree in business administration, University of Miami; Master of public administration, Columbia University
Keeping sight of my goals was the motivational force that carried me through.

Congratulations on winning the Derek Bok Public Service Prize. Can you describe your service work? 

I was awarded the Derek Bok Public Service Prize for my work in optimizing patient clinical outcomes in hospitals. Specifically, the Derek Bok Public Service Prize was awarded to me for significantly reducing nosocomial infections in two hospitals in Lima, Peru and developing a platform to establish baseline metrics with ongoing real-time capabilities applicable to any hospital in the world.

Hospital one: Over a two-year period in a 200-bed tertiary hospital, I developed and led an effort resulting in a 72 percent reduction in hospital-acquired urinary tract infections for the ward with the highest prevalence rates, three consecutive months of zero infections in the entire hospital, and an overall infection reduction of approximately 50 percent for the entire hospital — feats never before accomplished anywhere in Peru.

Hospital two: Over this same period, I worked with a 400-bed tertiary hospital to determine human factors affecting hospital-acquired urinary tract infections in two surgical wards and the operating rooms. This involved a series of observational studies such as time movement, burnout, and protocol compliance. The result, no urinary tract infections were detected during the three-month program in the men’s surgical ward while a series of protocol changes were implemented to improve patient outcomes in the women’s ward.

In both hospitals I engaged residents and nurses to register protocol compliance. I worked one-on-one with the staff, with one nurse technician telling me, “All the lives we could have saved if anyone had ever worked with me like this in all my 30 years of nursing.” This work is extremely rewarding on a personal level, for patients and their families, and financially rewarding for the hospitals, in one case having saved tens of thousands of dollars in avoided nosocomial infections.

Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?

My interest in eradicating hospital-acquired infections (also referred to as nosocomial infections) started when I served as a United Nations delegate in the 2014 General Assembly Regular Session (September) on behalf of the Peruvian mission. At that time, Ministers of Health from around the world confirmed their interest in improving patient safety and optimizing patient outcomes.

Two years later, in November 2016, I got the opportunity to develop an innovative platform to successfully eradicate hospital-acquired infections. The management program, within the master’s degree in liberal arts (ALM) at Harvard through the Extension School, provided me with frameworks and nomenclature to effectively implement innovative changes within the hospital’s clinical setting.​

How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities?  

To accomplish my work in the hospitals, plus deliver work for school, I had to push all other distractions aside. My family time and social life were reduced to holidays if that. It was personally taxing on several levels. Keeping sight of my goals was the motivational force that carried me through.

Do you have a favorite class or faculty member? Why? 

Fawaz Habbal, executive dean for the education and research at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is undoubtedly the most impressive faculty member I engaged with at Harvard.

At the Extension School, Lynn Larsen, my academic advisor, was the touchstone who saw me through the last year, ensuring I learned how to navigate any number of challenging situations. And Laura Wilcox, director of management and finance programs at Harvard Extension, propelled me forward with her personal attention and focus to how I would be applying my education going forward.

Describe your Extension School experience in one word. 

Transformational

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

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