As I write this post from an incredible suite (thanks COPIC!), looking out the hotel window as the sun sets over the mountains, I feel… lucky.
The first two days have been hard in ways I didn’t expect. After spending the past year undergoing fairly rigorous VA-sponsored HRO, patient safety, QI, and lean six sigma training, the didactic portions of this conference feel familiar. However, missing in most of the formal training that I’ve received over the past year has been the patient. It feels odd to write that I could have received so much patient safety training and forgotten about the actual patient, but it’s true. Only 25% of my year was spent in a clinical setting, and discussions about patient safety generally occurred in the abstract. I led M&Ms, but I didn’t meet the patients we were discussing. I participated in chartered RCAs, but I never spoke with the families of the patients who were harmed. I created patient safety forums, but only to help the nebulous “Denver veteran patient population,” not Mr. Jones and his family. Until this week, I had started to drift away from the knowledge that at the other end of these projects, lectures, and investigations are real patients and their families. I had started to take being a physician for granted and forgotten that it truly is a privilege.
I feel lucky that I’m able to attend this conference before restarting my clinical career to help me refocus on why I’m interested in patient safety. I feel lucky that I’ve never experienced harm as a patient, and I feel extremely lucky that I’ve never had a family member or loved one harmed by the healthcare system. Within this feeling of luck, though, there’s a sense of sadness. Because it truly is only luck that has kept my loved ones safe. And that’s unacceptable. This conference has reminded me why it’s so important to continue working within this field because patient safety shouldn’t come down to luck. But we all have a lot of work to do before that becomes a reality.