The first time that I ever spoke to a room full of medical students was a few years ago at Johns Hopkins. I told them Josie’s story and at the end of the talk I asked them if they had ever head of the Institute of Medicine’s report “To Err is Human”. No one raised their hand. I remember feeling shocked that these students- who were taught how to cure diseases, deliver babies and mend broken bones- were not being told about one of the leading causes of death in our country- medical errors. The more medical and nursing students to whom I talked, the more I realized that it was indeed a rarely discussed topic. I found this frustrating and confusing. Since then I have tried to talk to as many medical and nursing students as I can. These young minds are the next generation, and if I could make a tiny difference in how they would care for their patients by sharing Josie’s story then I was going to do it.

I am grateful to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) for creating the Open School ( The Open School is a great resource for medical and nursing students to round out their patient safety education. They offer free courses in patient safety and quality improvement, sponsor essay contests, and host safety conferences for students of the health professions. Each month the Open School offers an On Call teleconference lecture, in which a guest speaking talks about a topic related to patient safety. Students from all over the country listen in and learn. I don’t believe anything can take the place of a classroom with a professor, however this may be the next best thing.
On Tuesday- with the help of modern technology- I sat at my desk in my home in Baltimore and had the honor of talking to a few hundred students from around the country. The session was called “Channeling Grief into Action”. Simon Mathews, a medical student at Johns Hopkins, moderated the hour-long session. I shared Josie’s story. I explained that Josie didn’t die because of one misplaced decimal point, because of one doctor or nurse. She died because of a lack of communication. After I spoke, Simon opened the lines to take questions from callers. I loved hearing from the students and I could tell that they had been moved.
For me it had been an hour well spent. It was my chance to make an impression on these brilliant minds that will take healthcare into the future. It was my chance to remind them of the importance of good communication and the need to create a culture in which reporting errors is considered heroic; a culture where doctors and nurses work as a team to prevent medical errors; a culture where the patient is heard and when a mother says, “Something is not right…” she is listened to. I hope I succeeded in delivering that message.
Thank you to IHI for realizing the importance of getting this information to students. Thank you Deepa Ranganathan for pulling the program together, and thank you Simon Mathews for being a great moderator.
For more information, check out the links below:
-An audio recording and a transcript of the session will be available at at the end of the month. This link is also the gateway to all of the information about IHI’s Open School.
-IHI’s Open School blog ( has an open conversation about the session where you can post comments/questions. I’ll be checking in on the comments and responding to them.
-Want to take IHI’s educational programming wherever you go for free? You can subscribe to their informative podcasts at the Apple iTunes Store. Just go to the iTunes Store, search for “Institute for Healthcare Improvement” and click “Subscribe” to download IHI’s podcasts.