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  • Writer's pictureKevin Phillips

Theory and Practice

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Dr. Claire Phillips is a specialist in healthcare design and leadership. She spends her days studying and coaching healthcare professionals in behavior change.

Her organization, Nursing the System, addresses personal change challenges starting from the basic premise that personal behavior is integrated with a system. Change is not just about changing an individual. Nor is it about changing an organization or a community. It is about understanding how the system that sustains the status quo of an organization or a community also influences the behavior of the individual.

To effect lasting change, a leader studies the system to understand what makes it tick. They then look for the leverage point that will turn the entire system. Address that one point, and people will change their behavior as they adjust to the change in the system.

Thinking in systems is a super-power for leaders.

When we treat Substance Use Disorder, we don’t focus on the individual as “the problem”. The “addict” does not have a “problem” with alcohol or drugs. Rather, a human being is bound up in a system that reinforces alcohol and drug use as a solution for a larger, systemic problem.

Claire Phillips integrates theory and practice to help leaders integrate changing personal behavior with changing systems.

We at ARS address the challenge of substance use disorder, mental health, and homelessness. Claire Phillips is recruiting 10,000 nurses to address an even bigger challenge: The Healthcare System as a whole and a society the makes people sick.

“I have beef with academic programs that divide their classes into 'Theory' and 'Practice', Claire says. “To me, this creates a false choice (and provides students with ammunition to bemoan 'pointless' classes like Nursing Theory.)

“Look, we don't have practice without theory. They are inherently intertwined. Theory gives us the thinking foundation we need to take appropriate action. And practice gives us experience we need to refine theories."

Nursing the System focuses on training Nurse Leaders. But its keystone training program, “Change Maker Essentials” is for any leader who is ready to embrace the challenge of making real change in the world.

At ARS we approach substance use disorder as a systems problem. No one is born into the world with a dependency on alcohol, meth, or Fentanyl or heroin. Drugs and alcohol are available on the street because a system sustains their availability. A market exists for drugs and alcohol because a system sustains a need for their use.

The Archway Team is unlikely to dismantle and reform the global supply of alcohol and drugs. But we can address the micro-systems in which our patients live.

  1. Can we help them live in healthier families?

  2. Can we advocate for economic opportunities in the neighborhoods where they live?

  3. Can we be present in their schools as advocates for better learning environments?

  4. Can we create local communities that support one another, encourage one another, and lift one another up instead of tear them down?

Systems don't change easily. But they do change. And when a system changes, an individual changes. When a system becomes healthier, more just, more equitable, and more prosperous, people do too. We are blessed to live with the promise of a more hopeful future.


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