In the massive litany of facts that engulf medical students during four years of training, creating a culture of safety in patient care can get lost. But increasingly the value of open and honest patient-physician communication to reducing medical error is establishing a strong foothold in education. At MedStar Georgetown, PFACQS members and fourth-year medical students Sam McAleese and Katherine Koniares are helping to bring this message to the nearly 1,000 health care professionals-in-training at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
Raising Interest, Expectations
“My role in the council is to bring the student perspective to our mission—and to introduce our work to fellow students,” McAleese says. “Our short term goal is to raise awareness–having Katherine and me present at council events is helping to peak student interest.”
McAlvee’s own interest peaked when he embarked on a MedStar Heath system-wide research project the summer after his freshman year. “I spent 10-weeks collecting data to examine the challenge sepsis poses in MedStar Health hospitals. It was an assessment to determine how we respond to the hospital-based infection—and in what ways we can standardize and improve protocols across-the-board,” he explains. The experience convinced McAleese of the value of team-based care and open communication between patients, providers, residents and students in the process.
“From the educational point of view, I think we do it well here,” he says. “We have classes that focus on patient and physician communication with panels and interaction with hospital patients, and an immersion day for students that focuses on how patient safety issues can occur when there is a breakdown in communication. Still we know we can do more—and as a council member that’s my hope.”
Reinforcing Safety, Team Work
As Koniares begins her own immersion into the world of labor and delivery during her fourth year clerkship she is mindful of the lessons she has learned during the last year. “Everything I’ve been thinking about and studying will be put into practice every day,’ she says.
The issues of patient safety became very real to Koniares as she was completing her medical school project—a research study to “assess the level of teamwork and the perceived culture of patient safety as viewed by health care personnel in different units of MedStar Georgetown.”
Koniares’ results reinforced her gut feelings about the hospital: In all units, a majority of associates feel they support one another, work together as a team to get the job done and feel free to voice concerns if they suspect something is wrong.
This past summer, Koniares was invited to attend the MedStar Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety for medical and nursing students in Colorado—an international initiative founded by David Mayer, MD, vice president of quality and safety for MedStar Health.
“It was four days of rich discussion about communication, safety and quality in health care,” Koniares explains. “I’m now part of a growing alumni of the camp who are working to spread the idea of safety in health care,” she adds. “I think that it is important to begin this training early on, and keep re-enforcing the notion throughout our careers as physicians,” Koniares says.