Puhaty Lecture Puts Teamwork in the Spotlight

By Genevieve Long

Check out the lecture recording at www.ohsu.edu/son/alumni

Nurse: “I’m the patient advocate.” Pharmacist: “So what does that make me? The patient’s enemy?”

These lines from the play “Bedside Manners,” performed at this year’s Henrietta Doltz Puhaty lecture, show how a common phrase can create conflict between health care providers in diff erent professions. Training, traditional hierarchies and terms like “physician extender” keep nurses, physicians and other practitioners apart.

Suzanne Gordon, a nationally known patient safety advocate, says the results can be deadly. “When a doctor dismisses a nurse’s concern or a nurse doesn’t listen to a housekeeper, lives can be at risk.” Gordon argues that interprofessional teamwork is essential to patient safety, and building true teams requires training every member to behave in new ways.

Meet the Author

Suzanne GordonSuzanne Gordon has authored, coauthored and edited 18 books on patient safety and nursing. Her latest book, Collaborative Caring: Stories and Reflections on Teamwork in Health Care will be available in December from Cornell University Press. (Gordon co-edits the press’s Culture and Politics of Health Care series.)

Gordon’s other books include First, Do Less Harm: Confronting the Inconvenient Problems of Patient Safety and Beyond the Checklist: What Else Health Care Can Learn from Aviation Teamwork and Safety, which includes a foreword by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

“Historically, every health care profession has strong patient safety advocates,” Gordon says. “The Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report To Err is Human launched a national dialogue about patient safety in the United States, and their second report, Crossing the Quality Chasm, launched our modern patient safety movement.”

Gordon’s books are available on Amazon.com or through her website, www.suzannegordon.com. 

Why patient safety matters

“In 1999 and 2001, Institute of Medicine reports showed that 98,000 people die in the United States every year from preventable medical errors, and 1.5 million are injured,” says Gordon. “Those reports also showed that more than 75 percent of errors are due to failed communication. Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S.” (Recent reports show more than 400,000 deaths from medical errors today.)

Health care can learn from an unlikely place: aviation safety. “The airline industry had similar problems with hierarchy,” she explains. “Since the Federal Aviation Administration has required crews to work in teams and train together regularly, we’ve seen a steady decline in serious crashes.”

New behaviors, better outcomes

Gordon says behavior change is the key. “If a physician or nurse is abusive, you might say ‘A leopard can’t change its spots. But the leopard can change its behavior. Sexual harassment used to be an everyday occurrence at work, and now it is no longer tolerated because we demanded behavior change.”

Hosting “Bedside Manners” is just one example of the School of Nursing’s commitment to interprofessional education and collaboration. “Team building, skill building, coaching—all those things must happen to change things for our patients,” Gordon says. “It’s good to come to a place that’s on the right track.”


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