Face of InnoVAtion is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) focusing on VA employees who are working to change and save Veteran lives through innovation. This month, meet Matthew Knight, innovation specialist at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.
Matthew Knight had already reinvented himself once. In 2012, he decided to leave his career in corporate finance and dedicate his life to a passion of his – nutrition. By 2015, he was working with Veterans full time at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, IL. He spent six years working as an outpatient dietitian, teaching weight loss classes and working closely with Veterans to improve their health. Then the pandemic hit.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted my work life, I was no longer able to do many of the things I loved about my job – including talking to, educating, and helping Veterans,” Knight said. “I decided it was time for a change and when an announcement for a job detail as the acting Innovation Specialist found its way to my inbox, I decided to update my resume and apply.”
Innovation Specialists are the roots of the VHA Innovators Network (iNET) and are responsible for implementing facility-based innovation programs, moving VA toward becoming a more creative, innovative workforce. They work closely with frontline employees who have innovative ideas that improve Veteran care, the employee experience, and VA facilities overall. Through training in innovation best practices like the Three-Box Solution, human-centered design, and Lean Startup, Innovation Specialists are able to help VA employees launch their innovations, get support from leadership, and spread their ideas to break healthcare boundaries for Veterans.
Knight got the job two weeks after discovering the application in his inbox and has since been helping support innovation at his facility and beyond. Despite not knowing very much about iNET before applying, he believes he has found his calling.
“I’ll never forget the energy of that first team meeting. It was so unlike anything I had been part of in my VA career,” said Knight. “I was hooked. I knew at that moment this was the group for me. I love that I have the ability to impact both staff and Veterans with what I do.”
Since that first meeting, Knight has worked to rebuild the iNET program at Hines, with multiple workshops and programming opportunities for staff, and is participating in a number of Greenhouse Initiative projects as he ramps-up Hines’ external collaboration efforts.
“The diversity of the people I work with as the Innovation Specialist at Hines and their willingness to step outside of their comfort zone and explore the innovation space with me is something I appreciate each and every day,” he continued. “When someone is willing to go above and beyond, speak up, take a chance to do better, and have an impact on Veteran lives, I can’t help but want to do my best to support them.”
Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem.