We are clinicians, and we are human

To err is human, and to fail to recognize our humanity is disastrous. It think this recognition is at the core of what we’re talking about this week. One of the reasons that I’ve seen people being resistant to QI is because they are afraid that QI and patient safety interventions are making clinicians more “robotic” by introducing standardization and guidelines. Really though, I cannot think of a field that is trying harder than Patient Safety to get clinicians to recognize and accept themselves as human beings capable of error, empathy, creativity, mistakes, and brilliance.

We are all capable

Of humility. We began our second day in Telluride discussing disclosure of medical errors to patients and families. Recognizing our humanity in this situation is being able to admit failure, learn from it, and be humble enough to accept its consequences. That humility will allow us to tell patients and their families what they want and need to hear after a medical error that rocks their world: recognition, truthfulness, regret, remedy, and a promise to learn from this mistake.

Of ingenuity. Our second session focused on negotiation skills and applying negotiation to clinical practice. This exercise was so fun! It required problem solving, critical thinking, planning, reflection, teamwork and open-mindedness to reach the best possible outcome of the deal. These are the same skills required by all members of the healthcare team to achieve good patient outcomes. Patient Safety is about harnessing the creativity of the human members of the healthcare team to come up with solutions for the patients in their care.

Of perfection…but only for a moment. At the end of the day we heard from an amazing speaker about the parallels between aviation and healthcare. Recognizing our human propensity to always do better, but also the inevitability of failure is what will help us to strive for zero bad outcomes but to expected the unexpected along the way so that our healthcare “non-system” is as safe as it can be for each patient. Setting a goal of perfection can motivate us to continuously improve, but we must not get caught thinking that perfection in an instant will carry on for the next 10 seconds. We must always anticipate the errors that we know are bound to happen and maintain a realistic sense of ourselves as humans who will mean well, prepare, and still sometimes fail.

We are medical students. We are nurses. But after we shed the armor of our professions, we are humans, as are our teams and patients. We will make mistakes, but recognizing our humanity will help us expect them, accept the consequences, respect those we’ve hurt, and be galvanized to make positive change in their wake.