Pa Patient Saf Advis 2018 Mar;15(1).
Your Assignment, Should You Choose To Accept It
Anesthesiology, Critical Care, Internal Medicine and Subspecialties, Nursing, Pediatrics, Physical/Occupational Therapy, Radiology, Surgery
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Dwight McKay, BSL
Member, Pennsylvania Patient Safety Advisory Editorial Board
Member, Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority Patient's Voice Council
Community Member, Patient Safety Committee, Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital
Co-leader, Amputee Support Team of Lancaster
Certified Peer Visitor, Amputee Coalition


I am not a doctor or a nurse. I don't play one on TV. I am well and truly retired. But I did spend the last 30 years of my working life in a large manufacturing operation in a highly regulated industry. Over the years I have endured (yes, in some cases, that's the perfect word) hundreds of hours of corporate training. Some of it was good. Some of it was ghastly. As a manager, I've also done my share of training others. And since confession is good for the soul, I have to admit that the training I gave wasn't always good. Now involved as a volunteer in several patient safety initiatives, I am constantly reminded of the importance of training.

High Value Training

Classroom-style training remains a high value use of time. However, our modern institutions have also warmly accepted processes such as hands-on training, simulation exercises, and event recreations. They can focus instruction in different ways from the classroom setting, and, being interactive by nature, they can be more responsive to trainee questions and issues.

When you are on the receiving end of training, open your mind to the possibilities. Training is not punishment. Dig deep and find a way to motivate yourself about learning. For example, mentor someone who is newer to your organization than you are. Helping others to learn, you will learn more deeply and more successfully.

If you are a training manager or other leader who provides training, do all that you can to stay on the leading edge of technique and process. Constantly look for new ways to re-train on the same old material. Look for ways to test the effectiveness of your offerings. Poet Antonio Porchia said: "I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received." Find out if what you are giving is actually being received. If it isn't, change something; look for ways to be a better trainer.

I believe that there is always a need for improvement—always an opportunity to up our game in regard to training. So like the old Mission: Impossible television series and more recent movies, I offer this need to improve training as "your assignment, should you choose to accept it." While the Mission: Impossible assignments self-destruct after they are read, I don't think the Advisory will self-destruct after you read this, but who knows?

High Value Impact

A physician friend once told me, "Medicine would be a great profession—but for having to deal with the patients." I don't think he was serious, at least not completely. I believe he was giving voice to the common frustration felt by anyone in a job that has frequent interaction with other people. Someone in human resources, education, the law, or retail sales might say much the same thing in a moment of exasperation.

For the health and welfare of others, it is necessary for those irritations and distractions to be constrained. This is where professionalism comes in. In my way of thinking, this is where all that training and retraining comes in. The very concept of patient safety requires that an individual's training kick in even when he or she is distracted on a personal level.

I had the opportunity to serve on the panel of judges for the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority's contest, "I Am Patient Safety." A large number of the submissions included "good catch" scenarios. Those stories pointed to an individual being knowledgeable, focused, and professional enough to pick up on one small detail that made all the difference for a patient.

Good training can help to fill in the proficiency gaps for the individual with less experience. Good training serves as a reminder of why policies and procedures need to be followed. Consistent training can also help the more experienced person resist the temptation to take short cuts and half measures.

Yesterday's training on insulin needle length or on coordinating anesthesia and surgical sites or the need to double-check the patient's whiteboard may not change life in a big way. It won't remove all the distractions from your life. It won't alter the fact that the kids were arguing over their morning cereal. It won't keep you from being upset that your neighbor's dog left an ugly present on your front walk. It won't turn the emergency room into a place of tranquility. But the training time and effort will be well worth it if they help override distractions and make everyone involved more knowledgeable, focused, and professional.

Your assignment—and you really should choose to accept it—is to take full advantage of every training opportunity. You will be better for the endeavor. However, those who benefit most will be the patients who place their safety and their lives in your trust.


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