How Externing for Nonprofit Children’s HeartLink Revitalized Me and My Career   

Published on March 31, 2022

Written by Barry Jass, Senior Director of Global Training Operations at Medtronic and Children’s HeartLink extern 

Barry Jass from Medtronic served as a Children’s HeartLink extern and now is our volunteer

Last summer, I joined a nonprofit for a six-month externship as part of a grant commitment from the company I work for. I expected to share my knowledge and expertise to help them build a blended learning model. What I didn’t expect was for this experience to revive me and my career. 

I had been thinking about my future and talking with my supervisor at Medtronic about beginning a new challenge or undertaking a new project to reinvigorate me. My wife and I are empty nesters and quite frankly I’m entering what could be the final chapter of my career. Around the same time, Medtronic Foundation had provided a three-year grant to Children’s HeartLink to fund the training of 10,000 health workers and to improve outcomes for 10,000 children with congenital heart disease (CHD). I’ve always been passionate about education and helping people learn faster, better and retain more. The opportunity to utilize these skills to support a global nonprofit in developing a blended learning model couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Pursuing this externship meant I was temporarily vacating my current role as Senior Director of Global Training Operations at Medtronic. Medtronic and my department were going to continue to evolve and improve while I pressed pause to veer toward an opportunity to support a nonprofit in furthering its mission.  

At the time I joined, Children’s HeartLink had already taken their in-person training model and moved it to virtual due to the pandemic. Prior to March 2020, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals from the United States, Canada or United Kingdom would fly to countries like Malaysia, India or Vietnam to train and support hospital clinicians in pediatric heart care. 

The Children’s HeartLink capacity building model is built on medical volunteers training doctors, nurses and health care professionals in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries to build, improve and maintain their own pediatric cardiac care programs. They’re dedicated to reducing inequities for children born with congenital heart disease—which is an abnormality in the heart. About 1.3 million children are born with CHD every year. Shockingly, for every 10 children diagnosed only 1 has adequate access to pediatric heart care. 

Barry Jass (on the left) with Children’s HeartLink’s team during Global (re)Gathering, 2021

As Children’s HeartLink partner hospitals hone their skills, gain expertise to treat even the most complex cases, improve patient outcomes and help more children with CHD, they become a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence. Once this happens doctors and nurses are qualified to train their peers in underserved communities and advocate for heart care locally and globally. The more Center of Excellence’s the more health care professionals trained the more children with CHD disease served and saved. 

Taking this model of building Children’s HeartLink Centers of Excellence from an in-person model to a virtual model is a major undertaking. It’s easy to type these words but to truly acknowledge and understand the undertaking of this change you should know this global nonprofit has less than 16 paid employees today, even less when they made this change. While they receive support from individuals and organizations like Medtronic Foundation and medical volunteers at Mayo Clinic and Boston Children’s Hospital and many others, what I saw were dedicated and passionate people who were committed to the mission. 

The team was eager to begin pursuing a blended learning model with one of the goals being to move partner hospital sites into a Children’s HeartLink Center of Excellence quicker without jeopardizing quality care. They want as many children as possible with CHD to receive care. 

Blended learning during the pandemic has often been misconceived as simply adding Zoom calls for a while until we can get back to the in-person learning post-pandemic. But with Children’s HeartLink, we saw the opportunity to incorporate self-directed and virtual learning experiences as enhancements to in-person learning that would allow Children’s HeartLink and their medical volunteers to offer an experience that results in more health care professionals being trained. 

Barry Jass (second from the left) with Children’s HeartLink’s team, 2021

While I consulted, provided insights and education on what a blended learning model is, what it can be and how it can make a difference—I gained knowledge as well. I gained first-hand experience in understanding how nonprofits work and saw how they’re different than a larger corporate setting. It opened my eyes. I witnessed how to work with volunteers and how to be an influencer without having authority. I gained insight into how this global nonprofit is truly transforming pediatric heart care for children in underserved parts of the world. 

I fell in love with the people and the passion these people bring to the table every day. Employees, medical volunteers, doctors, and nurses are giving of their lives, the limited resources and money they have to make the world a better place. This is people of all walks of life working together because they truly believe every child born with a congenital heart defect deserves to have a chance at life. 

This experience reinvigorated me and gave me renewed energy to see the world differently and make a difference. When I return to Medtronic, I’m going to approach work with a new perspective. The patient and those who treat them will always be in the back of my mind as I strive to bring innovative technology to the company. 

I received a red crystal heart from Children’s Heartlink as a going-away present. It sits in front of me on my desk to remind me of the passion of this organization and the children’s lives that they save because of their self-less efforts. I’m a better person because of my experience at Children’s Heartlink.

Do you want to get involved with Children’s HeartLink? Click here