Teaching Medical Students About Medical Errors and Patient Safety: Evaluation of a Required Curriculum

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PurposeTo assess the effectiveness of a brief curriculum about patient safety and medical errors with third-year medical students.MethodFrom 2000–03, third-year medical students at New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York, were required to participate in a new curriculum on patient safety and medical errors during their family medicine clerkships. Five hundred seventy-two students participated in a four-hour curriculum that included interactive discussion, readings, a videotape session with a standardized patient, and a small-group debriefing facilitated by a family physician. Before and after participating in the curriculum, students were asked to complete questionnaires on self-awareness about patient communication and safety. Curriculum evaluations and follow-up surveys were also distributed. Responses to each statement on the before and after questionnaires were compared using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test for matched data.ResultsFive hundred eleven (89%) students reported that the opportunity to present an error to a patient increased their confidence about discussing this issue with patients, and 537 (94%) students reported that they strongly agreed or agreed that the standardized patient and feedback exercise was a useful learning experience. A total of 535 before and after questionnaires were used in the analysis. A comparison of before and after questionnaire data revealed statistically significant increases in the self-reported awareness of students' strengths and weaknesses in communicating medical errors to patients (p ≤ .01).ConclusionThese findings suggest that awareness about patient safety and medical error can be increased and sustained through the use of an experiential curriculum, and the students rated this as a valuable experience.

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