Folio News Story
January 6, 2006

Organizational culture and health

by Richard Cairney
Folio Staff
Dr. Anastasia Mallidou is working to change the professional interaction between nurses and doctors at Greece's largest children's hospital.
Dr. Anastasia Mallidou is working to change the
professional interaction between nurses and doctors at
Greece's largest children's hospital.

Think of the person working in the office next to you, or one floor above or below you. Does the way you interact with them affect the education of our students or the quality of research conducted at the University of Alberta?

Professional relationships the culture of a workplace and of a society are very much on the mind of Anastasia Mallidou these days. As vice-chief executive officer of the 750-bed Sophia Children's Hospital in Athens, Mallidou is focusing on the professional culture of Greece's largest children's hospital, hoping to improve health outcomes for its young patients.

Every day, she applies what she learned while an international student working towards her PhD (2004) at the U of A's Faculty of Nursing. Mallidou earned her undergraduate and master's degrees at Athens University and chose the U of A over some high-profile institutions.

"It came down to a choice between the University of California in San Francisco and the U of A," Mallidou said from her home in Athens. "I chose the U of A because of expenses. My specialization is nursing administration, and the U of A is famous for its nursing administration degree. It's one of the top three in the world. It's something the university should be proud of."

Mallidou's dissertation dealt with organizational culture in hospitals and how it influences patient outcomes. Today, she's putting her research into practice.

"I love the topic, so I feel fortunate to work in a hospital to put theory into practice, but it is very hard. How do you put the results of your research into practice?"

Mallidou examined professional relationships between nurses and physicians at so-called "magnet" hospitals institutions that draw the best health-care practitioners. In those hospitals, she found a highly collaborative environment between nurses and physicians that correlated to positive patient outcomes and shorter hospital stays.

"We can see a difference in the quality of care at these hospitals, so we think that improving this collaboration would bring about better results at other hospitals," she said. "Changing the culture, the way nurses and physicians talk about their patients and the extent to which they collaborate in the treatment of patients is very important."

Mallidou is finding that in Greece physicians are more "paternalistic" towards their patients. "Trying to change this kind of behaviour is more difficult, because health care professionals here come from a different culture. It takes more time and more effort, so it's more challenging."

But she credits her international education for giving her the tools to work towards change. An international education, she says, improves the learning experience.

"My mind, after living at the U of A and in Edmonton, works differently. It somehow works in two different ways North American and European," she said. "It gives me alternative solutions. It is very important. It is like seeing a glass of water as being half empty or half full. Both are right, but it is training your brain to think both ways. It is amazing to learn the same thing in different ways."

The presence of international students on campus also enriches the university, and the greater community, Mallidou adds.

"International education is good not only for foreign students but also for Canadians and Edmontonians," she said.

"It is a good experience, because here, in their own town, even in their own homes, they learn about different cultures from people who are from those cultures."