Changing the culture of medicine

As medical students we came into the world of medicine with lofty ideals, many of our personal statements reflected empathy, patient centered care, and improving healthcare as our reasons for joining this profession. While the textbooks of medicine are filled with pathophysiology, anatomy, and pharmacology, few if any talk about empathy, patient centered care, patient safety, improving healthcare. Even fewer talk about patient experiences with the “system” of medicine.

Competence is often equated with knowledge base and medical errors thought to be purely due to lack of medical knowledge or worse seen as sign of incompetence. It is time for us to recognize that humans, including doctors make errors and these errors affect lives of patients and families. Medical errors today are the third leading cause of death in America, not far behind cancer and cardiovascular disease. Yet while medical school curriculum pays excruciating attention to heart disease and cancer, any mention of medical errors and patient safety is sorely lacking.

If we are to change the culture of medicine we must start where the culture begins to take root. For most this is likely to be in medical school, its time to expose medical students to medical errors and patient safety issues to develop a culture that celebrates patient safety as an important cornerstone of medicine.