I first heard about the AELPS conference from a mentor in January of 2021. I was halfway through my last year of internal medicine residency with plans to start the next academic year as our residency program’s Chief Resident in Quality and Patient Safety. This conference sounded like the perfect way to meet, collaborate, and learn with other healthcare professionals; while my friends tended to roll their eyes whenever I started monologuing about the dangers of indiscriminate pan-scans or perked up at the mention of fishbone diagrams, these healthcare professionals would presumably feel a similar level of excitement and passion for healthcare quality and patient safety. Unfortunately, the conference was scheduled for June and I felt uncomfortable leaving for a week during the first month of my chief year. Disappointed, I marked the website in order to tell future mentees about the opportunity and thanked my mentor for thinking of me.
Luckily, the conference came to my attention for a second time when my mentor emailed letting me know that it had been postponed until August. I quickly compiled the necessary application materials and crossed my fingers that there were still spots. When I received the acceptance email, I eagerly marked the week off in my calendar and started the countdown. And then… what feels like our 27th COVID surge occurred. As Delta took off, the conference was canceled both for participant safety and because many of the attendees were needed to help manage the crush of patients that again flooded into our clinics, ERs, and hospitals. There was a silver lining of promise that the conference would be rescheduled and, if the stars aligned, hopefully occur next summer.
Now, writing this blog post on June 3rd, 2022–nearly a year after the original conference was supposed to occur and three days before the conference starts–it feels like we’ve reached a turning point. Although far too soon to say this confidently, it feels like we *might* be approaching a time when we can live alongside COVID while pursuing other passions. Despite what is likely another undercounted surge, we have the ability to attend conferences and discuss non-COVID topics in-person. This also feels like a unique time to be interested in patient safety. The pandemic exposed underlying fault lines in both society and our healthcare systems. After an initial surge in public support, it now feels like distrust in science and healthcare providers is growing. The next generation of patient safety leaders will need to discuss hospital-acquired infections, diagnostic misses, and medication errors, but will also need to be able to speak competently about healthcare disparities, cultural competency, and health literacy. There’s also a growing awareness that the way we’ve traditionally been practicing quality improvement and patient safety might not be accomplishing what we had hoped (check out Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum’s rather scathing recent three-part NEJM critique if you haven’t already). Although all of this might sound depressing, it actually leaves me excited. As a young physician about to enter my first attending job, it feels like there’s momentum to talk about and change the way we’ve been approaching patient care, patient safety, and quality improvement. I have four weeks left in my chief year, and I’m extremely excited to end the year meeting and collaborating with other new leaders in patient safety to discuss what the future of this field might include.