Just plain truth and humility go a long way

By Suresh Mohan, M4l, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

After digesting for a few days, I’ve realized our experience at Telluride will stay with me. Discussing my week with peers back home, I was shocked to realize how little they knew (and, thus, cared) about the topic of safety. I received responses of- “well, I guess every field has its downsides” to “Whoa, I didn’t know you were, like, super into that primary care stuff”. It reaffirmed my decision to have attended, and the value of what we learned.

In my view, a lot of issues in patient safety could be solved through two simple things our parents taught us: honesty and humility. Honesty encompasses the obvious actions we ought to take when we’ve committed a mistake- apologize, and tell the truth. It builds trust in place of suspicion, and can potentially prevent “afterharm”. As we’ve been told, research shows that honesty can not only maintain communication, but saves hospitals money in lawsuits. An honest admission, though potentially painful at first, will always incite some level of trust in a listener due to its divulgent nature. Transparency implies respect for the receiver, a rightful expectation of all patients.

As a student interested in surgery, I think teaching surgeons humility instead of blind confidence would make for drastically more safe ORs. The humility to know we are privileged to perform such invasive interventions, and to be able to admit to mistakes is paramount. We need to distinguish skill from ego, and find examples of those who are able to divorce the two to be our department chairs and leaders. The chair and culture of the department are so crucial to developing an environment where admitting mistakes is encouraged, and the lack of which is in fact reprimanded. This idea is contrary to most surgical climates where we reward the so-called “perfect”, also known as “those-best-at-hiding-their-shortcomings.”

Even if these are the only two words that I remember in 5 years from this incredible experience, I think it’ll be worth it. #Humility/Honesty