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Practice + Mistakes = Patient Safety

Hi, my name is Dr. Steve Yun, MD. I am a board-certified dental anesthesiologist in southern California.

Recently, I helped conduct a teaching session at the Simulation Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Using state of the art technology and “smart” patient mannequins, we are able to create realistic medical scenarios to help train dental professionals to manage rare but life-threatening emergencies in the dental office.

Even though we are in a simulation environment and not dealing with actual patients, the emergency scenarios are still very stressful for the participants because they are forced to evaluate and manage difficult clinical situations in real-time.

Why go thru the anxiety, time and expense of training ourselves for emergencies that the vast majority of dental professionals will never see in their career? Personally, from my standpoint, why should I volunteer my time to teach emergency scenarios when I have already practiced these scenarios hundreds of times already?

Well, medical emergencies may be rare, but when they occur, dental professionals must be prepared to handle the situation. And the three best ways to truly learn are to PRACTICE, PRACTICE and PRACTICE. In a crisis situation, we may panic, become disoriented, lose track of time and forget key steps in the resuscitation of a patient. Practice and repetition are the key to being calm, prepared and efficient in an emergency situation.

A second key benefit of learning in the Simulation Center is that it provides a safe environment for us to learn from our mistakes and failures. We are all human beings, and we all are vulnerable to making mistakes in stressful situations. In the simulation center, I see students making numerous mistakes and all different types of errors. And that is OK! Indeed, that may be one of the most valuable aspects of simulation training. It allows participants to learn from their mistakes without harming an actual patient! This failure-driven learning process is key, for we often learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our “successes.”

As Matthew Syed states in his brilliant book, Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from their Mistakes, but Some Do, “The more we can fail in practice, the more we can learn, enabling us to succeed when it really matters.”

I encourage all my fellow colleagues and dental professionals to take the opportunity to practice your emergency skills (and practice them again and again), and to have the courage to learn and grow from your mistakes. Practice + Mistakes = The Path to Patient Safety.

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