The Patient, My Purpose

With a day and a half at the Telluride Patient Safety Summer Camp behind me, I can honestly say that the experience thus far has exceeded even my very high expectations. Yesterday I was astounded by both the natural beauty of the setting that we are in and by the diversity of perspectives that my peers bring to this round table. I’m thrilled to be connecting with other students and young professionals from around the country who share my passion for patient safety and quality improvement, not to mention meeting the accomplished faculty who are true leaders in this field, and have set the stage for my generation of clinicians to make the healthcare system work better for the patients that it serves.

In addition, it’s truly refreshing to be working alongside both fellow medical students as well as nursing students and practicing nurses. It’s undeniable that interdisciplinary practice is critical to providing the safest, most comprehensive patient care and to promoting a happy and healthy workplace. Despite knowing these things, I still feel like my education has a long way to go to fully integrating these two professions (as well as the myriad of other members of the healthcare team) so I’m really looking forward to learning from my counterparts and taking some of those things back to my institution, to hopefully provide a different perspective from solely that of the physician.

Today was a day filled with discussion about communication and the real implications of medical errors. We began the day with a moving story about a young boy who tragically lost his life to a series of medical errors, and I am so deeply grateful that his family is willing to share their experience. Being able to connect a face and a story with the types of errors that I learn about in the classroom reinforces how critical these issues are and how vital it is that we all do something about it. The film we watched about this case brought out so many emotions for me. I was heartbroken to know that a mother, father, sister, friends, and other loved ones had to experience this senseless tragedy. I was angry at the medical system that I am now a part of for continuing to spin its wheels even a decade and a half after the IOM report To Err is Human came out. And I am motivated to take part in and lead some of the changes that are finally starting to happen that seek to make care safer for patients.

Hearing that story, being in an environment where I feel comfortable sharing my passion for these issues, and realizing that there are so many people who feel the same way that I do about the state of healthcare and the role that clinicians have to play in improving it has already solidified my commitment to being involved in these changes throughout my career. These experiences in my first 2 days here have given me a sense of purpose that my decision to pursue medical school alone didn’t rouse within me. While I am ecstatic to be in medical school and can’t wait to practice as a physician, even that didn’t feel like my “calling.” But after hearing Lewis Blackman’s story and having such good conversations, I have a powerful sense that I have found a profound sense of meaning in my role as a clinician through patient safety and quality improvement work. I’m so excited to take what we’re learning this week and use it as a physician to better the interactions that my future patients and their families have with the healthcare system and to make my workplace a positive and supportive environment for all members of the team.

One of the faculty members today reminded us, no matter how challenging things get, to maintain a sense of “north” that is guided by the human beings in our care and that reflects our personal and professional values. At the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety, I’m beginning to chart my course and define my north, and I can’t wait to see where the journey takes me!

Alex Douglas, rising M2 at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health