Pre-Telluride Thoughts

As I look forward to the Telluride Experience next week, I reflect back to when I first really thought about patient safety in the context of my own career.  Thinking back to my White Coat Ceremony this past fall, I got chills as I pledged the Hippocratic Oath for the first time and made a commitment to “first, do no harm.” At that time, I was overcome by the excitement and seriousness of the journey that I was about to undertake. Since entering medical school, I have started to think more about how our humanness plays into our futures as healthcare providers. I have considered how our patients will need us to play a multitude of roles as their doctor—problem solver, caregiver, teacher, healer—but also, human—with a human’s compassion and empathy. I have also, however, experienced and reflected upon the fallible nature of our being in the context of healthcare. And it is through this pondering of the human side of medicine that I have become very aware of the implications of our humanness and the inevitability of our mistakes. The human aspect of medicine is absolutely essential and is at the core of what makes the practice of medicine an art. It is also, however, what leads inevitably to errors in patient care that seem to occur all too often.

As a medical student looking at the future, part of me finds this acknowledgement of the reality of medical error to be daunting. On the other hand, I find our error-prone nature to be a calling to seek out a solution that is outside of ourselves as individuals. I do not believe that the realization of the inadequacy inherent in our humanity is a calling to endlessly chase after perfection within ourselves and to tirelessly scrutinize and shame our personal shortcomings. Instead, I believe that we should work together collaboratively, creatively, and carefully to fine tune our practices and systems so that they are as patient-centered and safe as possible. We must strive for the highest quality of care for our patients while simultaneously accepting our own humanity and imperfection. I hope to see the culture of healthcare transition from a culture of burdensome shame to one of thoughtful solution.  I hope that we can create a culture that encourages discussion, reflection, debriefing, and compassion in our critiques.

I wanted to attend the Telluride Experience not only because it has the ability to affect me, but also my peers and my future patients.  Through this experience, I hope to learn and broaden my own perspective so that I can carry lessons forward and apply them in practical ways after the program. During this very formative time at the outset of my medical career, I am building a foundation of understanding—from anatomy and pathology to immunology and physiology— that will inform and shape my decision- making down the road. As I gain a fuller picture of the many factors contributing to disease, I believe that it is also important to place myself in that picture, as a future healthcare provider, and to understand the ways in which healthcare can act as a mechanism of disease in itself. Through the Telluride Experience, I hope to explore tangible ways in which this picture can be calibrated to maximize patient safety and quality care. I recognize that the habits, experiences, and training that I am acquiring now are laying the foundation for the doctor that I will be in a few short years. I hope that by participating in opportunities like the Telluride Experience will help me to form an infrastructure that is as sound, competent, and as patient-centered as possible.