Culture change starts in school

What an exhilarating first day at the Turf Valley Telluride Experience! As expected, starting with a sentinel, tragic patient safety story was a very effective jump start to this week. The discussion that followed was powerful and illustrative. I was struck by one of my colleagues here, a preclinical medical student. He responded to the tragic, yet illuminating patient safety story of Lewis Blackman, where system errors resulted in his untimely death. I’ve had many eye-opening opportunities to learn from patient safety events during my residency program, especially through various patient safety and risk management electives, where I reviewed patient safety events and participated in a Root Cause Analysis. However my medical student colleague has not had these experiences yet and his initial response to Lewis’ preventable death was to study harder and expand his medical knowledge even more so he could better diagnose his patients’ illnesses. I can certainly relate to this sentiment – as physicians and trainees we aspire to be the best and know the most amount of medicine as possible to better care for our patients; that’s sometimes the societal expectation. Nevertheless, improving patient safety is more than increasing one’s medical knowledge foundation – it’s about starting with a drastic culture change, as described in the pre-reading medical-utopia novel, Why Hospitals Should Fly.  

As a medical community, which spans from technicians to nurses to physicians and trainees, and, of course, our patients and families, we need to shift our approach to delivering care. The medical field can be toxic and it will take a generation of interdisciplinary medical leaders to lead that change. This must start in school, which is why I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with and learn from such a diverse and wide range of leaders, including medical students, nurses, administrators, residents, physicians, and patient advocates. I look forward to the next few days to delve deeper in how I can play a role in this culture change.