Rookie climbing and patient safety

After a week at the patient safety conference, I’ve been given a lot to think about. Throughout the weekend, I reflected on my experience – from human factors to just culture, from care for the caregivers to root cause analysis there has been something that stuck with me though each session. It comes back to the video that we watched at the start the conference with the dancing man and his first follower. One of the things that we didn’t touch on in our discussion was role of both enthusiasm and encouragement in movements.

When watching that video, the dancing man’s energy and moves were breaking the status quo and his follower came in and matched that energy. If the follower had less conviction or started dancing in a mocking way with the shirtless dancing man, I doubt the ‘movement’ would have been successful.  

This weekend, I went and climbed in King’s Canyon with my best friend and her climbing compatriots. I was nervous to hang out with people much more experienced and skilled than I was, and I was self conscious of attempting bouldering problems and climbing routes that were fluid and easy for them, knowing that I would plop off and not finish most of the route. These feelings were familiar to me as both a medical student in the hospital, but also a participant of the conference. Even when no one acts superior or is stand-offish, it can be intimidating in medicine when you feel like you’re not sure what to do or what your role is.

However, as I sat timidly by on the first bouldering problem, watching the others get on the granite to try and fail and try again, I was encouraged by these next-to-strangers to get up and give it a go. I bashfully put on my shoes and approached with trepidation, muttered that I’d never been bouldering outside, and put my hands on the rock. I instantly heard advice called out behind me of how to get the best hold, what my first foot placement should be, and how to engage my muscles to make my next move. I managed to lift my feet off the ground – an instant chorus of “nice!” I bumped my hand up to the next hold – a wave of “get it, Ally!” I reached for the next hold – and fell to the pads just a few feet below me. As I stood up and brushed the chalk off my hand, I looked up to beaming faces and fist bumps. I couldn’t help but break out into a proud grin. I had done more than I thought I was capable, and I couldn’t help but feel that it was, in part, due to the instruction and encouragement I had received. For the rest of the weekend, I felt like I could try new routes, request ‘beta’, take my time when I got scared, and ask for more tension on the rope as I climbed.

After learning about the myriad of ways in which medicine can be bolstered, the climbing trip could not have come at a more perfect time to help me realize what I want to contribute to patient safety back in Colorado. I felt first hand how important it is to first feel capable and supported before trying new things, speaking up, and asking questions – I want to help foster that feeling in the environments where I work. It can be done through simple compliments that reinforce good safety precautions, or acting excited to use closed loop communication, even if no one feels it’s ‘necessary’. By bringing an enthusiasm and encouragement, I can help shape the supportive culture of patient safety.