A US Olympian’s Perspective on Patient Experience and Service Recovery

A US Olympian’s Perspective on Patient Experience and Service Recovery July 16, 2021

It would surprise you how one can translate experience in sports into the service recovery arena. However, it worked for Cheryl VanKuren, MBA, MS, LSSBB, President, and Chief Experience Officer of In The Arena Consulting. In a recent webinar, she sits down with CEO and co-founder Edward Shin, MD to describe how she was able to successfully transition from being a three-time NCAA Division I field hockey champion and olympian into a role that focuses on improving patient experience and service recovery in healthcare.

“I wanted to help many organizations achieve their strategic goals.”

VanKuren discusses the importance of being close to the feedback in order to come up with solutions. Surprisingly, her experience on the field hockey pitch prepared her for such a role. Practicing prepared her team to compete, but that did not mean that every game would go in their favor. She says that even if you fail at your task, having tried is what makes the difference.

That’s why she stresses how important it is for every department to center the patient experience. That needs to be the main objective for everyone, and how they develop best practices. A good test of this is to ask various people to interpret these patient experience standards, and see how much these interpretations vary. She asks, “How do you break down these standards… so that everyone understands and knows their role?”

Her answer: Simplicity.

Learn how to perfectly execute simple practices with every patient and on every shift of everyday. That is improving the patient experience and service recovery in healthcare. Focus on the fundamental principles, and you will achieve the results you seek, and with every member of the team. With this philosophy, everyone can perform their job feeling like they are valuable to the community.

The higher levels of the organization may not see their role in service recovery, and therefore they may not be so quick to buy into goal shifting. However, VanKuren encourages executives and leaders to imagine when they or their loved ones were patients. How would they want their own families to be handled? Higher ups should also take into account the consistency of messaging, and how “walking the talk” means that they embody the messaging for themselves.

“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about learning from your mistakes.”

VanKuren calls a lot of businesses “data-rich and information-poor.” We have all of the data, but we have no means of translating what you’re tracking, or an understanding of what is useful. Without a proper means for qualitative analysis, you won’t know the biggest and most trending issues to tackle first. Also, this leads to issues with service recovery and timeliness in responses.

Learning from your mistakes looks like analyzing your data to uncover weaknesses, a practice which can ultimately take your business far. Once those weaknesses are apparent, healthcare organizations can put in a framework that allows for consistency, with the results being success.


Like on the field hockey pitch, a consistent approach to teamwork with comprehensive goal setting can allow for more wins. This requires practice and a structure, and it starts with those in the field and up to the highest level execs.


Jill Yarberry

Vice President, Patient Experience

Jill has 20 years’ experience in healthcare business development and operations. Prior to joining Quality Reviews®, Jill worked in the healthcare industry where she has been responsible for developing and implementing the sales strategy, market research, and business development to meet and exceed sales growth projections.

View All Posts