Ingredients for Patient Safety: Teamwork and Communication

August 26, 2016--The patient is lying on his back, unconscious. Physicians and nurses gather around. “He isn’t breathing!” someone yells. “Starting chest compressions. One, two, three...”

But the patient isn’t really a patient and the physicians aren’t really physicians...yet. The simulation was a part of Patient Safety Immersion Day at Georgetown University School of Medicine on August 17. Along with almost 100 nurse residents from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, third-year medical students participated in a day chock-full of safety, from lectures to simulations to exercises in communication.  

Hands On Learning

While one half of the participants were in lectures, the other half completed hands-on learning exercises in the Integrated Learning Center, including the simulation. When the participants entered the exam room, they found a patient simulator with no pulse and were told to act as though it was a real patient.

“We wanted to simulate an event where they had to work in teams,” said Eileen Moore, MD, associate professor of medicine. “This is obviously a very important concept in medicine. When working in a team everyone has a role to play.”

Groups also participated in activities that were not medical in nature, but required them to strategize and communicate in order to succeed. During one activity, group members had to evenly distribute their weight across an elevated board to avoid cracking eggs that were placed under each end. While it might seem like they were more focused on the egg’s safety than anything else, it required clear, constant communication between group members – the kind of communication that is needed to keep patients safe.

“The activities involved teambuilding, but even more importantly, communication. Communication is essential to patient safety,” said Moore.

Multidisciplinary Approach

This was the medical school’s fifth Patient Safety Immersion Day, but it is the first time that nurses have participated.

“The nurses in our residency program are recent graduates from top universities across the country,” said Eileen Brennan Ferrell (NHS’75, G’83), MS, RN, chief nursing officer at Medstar Georgetown. “I saw this as an opportunity to bond our nurses to patient safety the minute they walk through the door.”

Each group was comprised of medical students and nurses, and facilitators were physicians, nurses and pharmacologists.

“Collaborative approaches are so important as we continue to flatten the hierarchy in medicine,” said Ferrell. “The feedback so far is that the medical students and nurses really learned from each other.”

Leigh Ann Sham
GUMC Communications