As we at the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety (AELPS) prepare for our 13th year of Patient Safety Summer Camps for future healthcare leaders, I always reflect on a personal story I share the first day of each session to kick-off our week of work together. The story captures many of the reasons we have a preventable medical harm crisis today, such as: fear, devastation, lack of transparency, refusing to learn and improve from mistakes, lack of embedded human factors. The story also serves to show our young learners that we all are human and we all make mistakes, and helps set up a learning environment where they feel safe in sharing their own personal stories. Those who have only worked in healthcare a short time will have seen, or been involved in, an event that harmed a patient. For those that have followed our blog through the years, you have read some of these personal stories…mistakes that even harmed our own family members. I thought I would share my story with all of you.
Many years ago, I was involved in a medical error as a resident – a wrong-sided hernia repair that unfortunately harmed one of our patients. As the anesthesiologist, my job was to bring the patient into the operating room, put the required monitors on so I could make sure he was safe during the procedure, and then administer the general anesthetic that would keep him unconscious during his right-sided hernia surgery. I did that successfully and was focused on my job but, like others in the operating room, I didn’t notice that the senior surgical resident had taken the scalpel and made the surgical incision on the patient’s left side by mistake. Two minutes later the attending surgeon who had been detained with a question from another surgeon, came into the operating room, looked at the patient on the operating table and asked, “I thought this was a right-side hernia repair?” When the surgical resident realized her mistake, she passed out…the impact making a medical error can have on us as caregivers.
The surgeon closed the incision on the left side and then proceeded to fix the hernia on the right side. The patient now had two surgical bandages on their abdomen: one to cover the hernia repair, the other to cover our mistake. I dreaded having to see the patient in an hour and explain my part in the medical error that harmed him. I had never been involved in a medical error before, and was very nervous about the anger he might feel towards me and our team. When I went to meet the patient in the recovery room, I noticed he had a big smile on his face. This struck me as very odd. Before I could say anything, he looked at me and said, “Today is my lucky day”. I was dumbstruck. He continued, “Yes, today is my lucky day because under anesthesia my surgeon told me he discovered I had two hernias, one on each side, and was able to repair both at one time so I don’t have to miss another day of work to get the second one repaired”. It then hit me. The plan was to lie to the patient and cover up our mistake. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. After a very long pause, I responded, “Yes, today is your lucky day,” and I signed the patient out.
Not only were my six words to the patient “Yes, today is your lucky day” morally and ethically wrong, our lack of honesty and transparency kept us from learning how to prevent others from suffering similar harm. As a result, wrong-sided surgeries continued to occur far too frequently.
In defining professionalism in healthcare we use words like altruism, honor, integrity, respect, caring, compassion, and accountability to name a few. In telling my patient “Yes, today is your lucky day”, I violated every one of those principles we take an oath on when becoming a caregiver.
Finishing medical school is about looking back to your time as students and looking to the future as new graduates.
It’s the future I want to focus on. Medical school is just part of the continuum of medical education. You’ll keep learning new facts and new techniques. You’ll even find that as years pass and knowledge increases some things you learned in medical school have become obsolete or outdated, overtaken by new information.
But some things never change. One of these is the need to always put the patient first. It sounds so simple, but there will be many temptations to put the patient’s need lower on your list of priorities.
Many events and people will influence you. Some of these events will be errors you or others will be involved in. Most errors are not the fault of an individual, although the individual may be the last factor in a string of contributing causes. Most errors are the fault of a system where the safety of the patient is not always paramount. And when they do occur, they should always be seen as opportunities to learn and improve.
The people you meet and work with can influence you. Not all will be good influences. Some will be arrogant, some will cut corners, some will ignore protocols, some will not show respect for their patients or for other health professionals. Some will not put the patient first.
You’ll meet others who treat staff and patients with respect, who aren’t self-promoting, who sit at the bedside to talk with patients, who listen, who understand the value of other members of the care team, who want to learn as well as to teach and who put the patient at the centre of every decision.
Both groups have the potential to be role models, particularly if they have strong personalities or are much more senior than you. So pick you role models with care. Decide who you want to be like and who you don’t want to be like.
Here are my 10 tips for new graduates, tips that will help you right through your career, but more importantly, tips that will help your patients, giving them good care and keeping them safe.
- Never forget that patients are vulnerable.
- Remember that you are the guest in your patient’s illness.
- Listen to your patients. “What’s the matter with you?” is a good question but your care will be better if you also ask “What matters to you?”
- Use simple, clear language with your patients, remembering that good communication involves listening.
- Work collaboratively with and learn from nurses and allied health professionals.
- Admit your mistakes and use them as opportunities for improvement.
- Don’t accept standards and behaviours that aren’t in the best interests of the patient. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
- Keep learning, stay up to date.
- Never let people put you on a pedestal. Stay humble.
- Always put your patient first, never forgetting that “It’s all about the patient”.
Have a wonderful and fulfilling career.
Following are leads from Resident Physician reflections after attending the first 2016 session of the Telluride Experience. Links are included back to the original posting on the Telluride Experience blog. Thanks to all who so courageously offered their stories from the front lines of care so that others can learn through them. It is by sharing our stories that we free another to tell theirs as well.
The Magic In Transparency
This phrase struck me as the perfect way to describe an experience I had my intern year. My first continuity ob patient had a fetal demise at 34 weeks. She was the first patient I had followed from the beginning of her pregnancy. I performed her dating ultrasound at 9 weeks. Unlike many of my patients, she and her husband faithfully came to every prenatal visit. She did not smoke, use drugs and followed the dietary guidelines. Her husband was the chatter one of the duo, while she would calmly take everything in at our visits. They both teared up when I told them they were having a girl at the 20 week ultrasound. They told me her name was Emma. More…
I was not going to share this but have been inspired by the courage of others around me. So thank you!
…In the first few days of Residency, we had a mandatory “Emotional Harm” meeting. I thought it was nice of them to do and always a good reminder. It focused on the empathy towards the patient and not losing our empathy when getting in the rhythm of dealing with similar situations and cases over and over again. I loved that they did this. This is something that is so important to remember and necessary to address.
Looking back however, I just wonder what about my emotional harm? Where are my resources? In this first 7 months of my residency experience two Senior Attendings committed suicide. I did not know the first, but I certainly knew the second. While there was heartfelt sadness and memorials to honor both, there was nothing else. No counseling offered to employees, no conversations, no checking in after some days, nothing at all. More…
Humility and Humanity
Humility and Humanity. This phrase stuck with me from Dan Ford’s talk. From medical school through residency it is drilled into us to be confident, un-phased, unemotional , these qualities are attributed to professionalism and success. Doctors are supposed to be infallible , so when we face an adverse outcome thats what we do instinctively. We become distant, listening to Helen, Sorrel and Dan thats the exact opposite of what patients need. Alienation only leads to prolongation of suffering for the patients family as well as the caregiver. Moving forward I hope to make these values a foundation of my practice.
Reading all the stories from my peers encouraged me to share as well, this was an amazing group of people and faculty. My first ICU night rotation as a PGY-2 I admitted a patient in DKA and septic shock. More…
The following is written by Guest Author and Patient Advocate, Carole Hemmelgarn
In the months of March and April I had the opportunity to take two amazing trips; one to Doha, Qatar and the other Sydney, Australia. Do I feel fortunate to have visited these incredible places? Absolutely! The irony is, however, I would not have been in either location if my daughter Alyssa’s life had followed its natural course.
I was invited to both places to be part of the faculty to teach patient safety and behavior change to the young emerging scholars in the fields of nursing, pharmacy, medicine and allied health. While these young individuals are regarded as our future patient safety leaders they represent something much more to me. They give me hope. Hope that we can start fixing a broken healthcare system by breaking down the hierarchy, improving processes and communication skills, creating resiliency, and learning to provide support and care to our very own healthcare providers. They are also the generation giving hope to patients and families; making sure we are at the center of care, and that our voices and stories are heard, listened to, and acted upon with dignity and respect.
Earlier this year I told my sister that 2016 was the ‘year of hope’ for me. People will tell me they want me to be happy, but I struggle to understand what happiness is or means. Hope, however, is something I can wrap my arms around. I can hope to see a beautiful sunrise while out running, to watch a smile spread across my son’s face, and to see a child exiting a hospital knowing they are leaving better than when they entered.
There is an incredible aftermath when you lose a child to medical errors. It is a topic rarely discussed and one no one can ever prepare you for. Grief is a journey; a journey without a beginning, middle or end. While those of us who have lost a loved one never want you to experience this overwhelming pain we would like you to understand why happiness may take time in returning, or hope may be the best we can ever do.
When I teach these young scholars, I share part of Alyssa’s story because it helps connect the head and heart, and we need to put this piece back into medicine and caring for patients. Every time I speak about Alyssa, I give a piece of myself and my hope is that you take this piece and use it to make change. The future of patient safety resides in hope because hope is not found looking down or back, it is only found looking up.
As in Doha, SolidLine Media was along to capture the stories being told at The Telluride Experience: Sydney! Thanks to Greg, Michael, John, Ali and team for pulling this short video together utilizing movie magic across the continents in time for the Minister of Health herself to view it live in Sydney, at the Clinical Excellence Commission’s reception for students and faculty before we returned home last week.
Truly a great team effort by all to bring the reflections and voices of change to life.
It was only a matter of time before the Telluride Experience, which began as a labor of love by healthcare leader, Dave Mayer MD, almost twelve years ago came to Sydney, Australia. Kim Oates, MD, a local healthcare leader, Telluride faculty member and another who leads with love in the healthcare workplace, championed the experience for young healthcare professionals on the third continent this year.
Dave and Kim are two healthcare leaders who know what it means to put the patient first, what patient centered care really means, and they put that knowledge to the test in real life practice. Another gift both leaders possess is the ability to gently teach and guide, without sacrificing principles. They understand how hard it is for healthcare learners to rise above the medical culture because they have lived it. Today, Kim shared that the three hardest words in medicine are, “I don’t know,” and “Please help me.” Dave openly shares his own experience of being on the wrong side of medical harm when he was a resident physician. They both care deeply about patients. They also care deeply about educating young healthcare professionals to not only protect patients, but to also ensure these well-meaning nurses and doctors stay safe as well.
Healthcare needs more leaders like Kim and Dave, who lead with love. They never have to question the right and the wrong of a situation. Their hearts are their true north.
For more information on how to learn alongside healthcare leaders like Dave and Kim, as well as take home the lessons of the Telluride Experience, go to www.telluridesummercamp.com.
The Telluride Experience faculty has arrived at Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park, an idyllic Telluridesque location in Manly, Australia. The Telluride Experience: Sydney faculty and students will be tucked into this retreat location in Sydney’s National Park just across the water from the lights and cosmopolitan city of Sydney. Q Station and the National Park has a little bit of all Australian terrains, including Manly cove beachfront, bush land and the protection of a canopy of rainforest-like red gum trees.
These spectacular trees serve as home or rest to 150 different types of birds, and resemble our collective efforts at changing healthcare culture by also renewing themselves each year, as they shed their bark presenting a fresh, new salmon colored skin to the surrounding environment.
An old Quarantine Station protecting Australians from smallpox or other contagious disease potentially carried by those seeking to become citizens during the 1830s through 1984, this could not be a more fitting location to host what will be the epicenter of local of patient safety learning over the next four days. Last night, the group shared conversation, introductions and local food and wine to start the week, welcoming one another to yet another intimate and
International patient safety Telluride Experience. Join the conversation on social media, using #AELPS16.