Students As Superheroes of Healthcare

Last week’s class at the Telluride Student Summer Camp proved to be very prolific, sharing their experience through metaphor and analogies found in everyday life to bring home the educational concepts shared during the week. Eva Luo, University of Michigan-Class of 2013, shared an excellent post–Health Care Assemble!–on the Transparent Health blog using the latest blockbuster movie, The Avengers, as an analogy for teamwork in healthcare. She writes:

As a fan of superhero movies, our deep confusion about how doctors and nurses work together to safely take care of patients reminded me of the movie, The Avengers. In the first half of the movie, a rag tag team of super heroes is brought together with the mission to save the world from alien domination. Each hero has his or her own superhuman talents (intelligence, strength, lightning generating hammer, etc.), not to mention movie franchise. However, the villain’s first attack quickly demonstrates that even superheroes are not effective alone and are at risk of causing unintentional harm…

The transformation in the second half of the movie was remarkable. Captain America rose to the challenge of leading the team. Each of the members communicated effectively removing any ambiguity about each member’s role. Most importantly, the superheroes played to each other’s strengths and supported each other. If my memory serves me correctly, I don’t believe any human lives were lost despite impressive damage to much of Midtown. Is similar effective teamwork possible in health care? I think so. But, we need to invest in building teams while we are still in school.

As an educator, Eva’s message is a reflection of how we are failing to properly prepare health science students and resident physicians to successfully address the complex needs of a team-based, patient-centered healthcare system. Patient care is now a team sport, not an individual sport as in years past.  Health science curricula needs to be changed so students and resident physicians understand interprofessional roles, train in teams, and fully appreciate the powerful role patients can play when included on that care team. All too often, we continue to throw traditional curricular “roadblocks” into their educational schedules, those which only superheroes could overcome at times. Yet the young warriors attending this year’s summer camp remain eager to learn not only the science, but also the team-based, patient-centered, systems approach to making healthcare delivery safer.

The development of cohesive, multidisciplinary teams that include the patient’s voice can be instrumental in making care safer. Training around this important theme needs to be incorporated into all health science school curricula…not just at the few sites that have started moving towards this educational model. One nice example of interprofessional training is the work being done by Gwen Sherwood (a Telluride Patient Safety Summer Camp faculty member) and others, at the University of North Carolina. For more information go to:

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