Volume 36 Number 6 | December 2022

Jeremiah Oh, MDxT(AAB), Developing Professionals Forum Secretary, ASCLS-Georgia Developing Professional Director

Jeremiah OhDuring my time in my academic program, I’ve found that for many students such as myself, topics like patient safety or professional ethics can often come across as an abstract concept—an afterthought that sometimes takes a back seat when we’re in the midst of our studies. Oh, I need to review my Gram-positive cocci before my exam this week, or, our second lab practical is coming up, I have to go over my cell morphologies again.

We receive hands-on experience in the major disciplines for laboratory procedures, but topics such as patient safety seems to be one of those subjects that appear as an exception. It’s difficult to emphasize these subjects when we consider that our first, tangible experience is typically when we attend our clinical rotations. Moreover, I’ve been fortunate that my curriculum includes a course covering this exact topic, but even that is limited to discussions and readings about the subject rather than practical applications. As MLS students, we can discuss what we would do in certain scenarios or review interactions between professionals, but we truly don’t engage with patient safety or ethics until we’re faced with a situation at our rotations or workplace that requires active decision making in the moment.

This is not to discredit the efforts that academic programs have made to educate us on this topic. I still wholly embrace programs integrating topics involving patient safety or ethics into their curriculum. It’s a much-needed improvement in highlighting our role in patient care and illustrates the significance of the matter. To that end, I appreciate and support the standards and requirements that NAACLS places on programs to include these subjects into the academic curricula.

“Mistakes in the classroom and lab are expected, but we must take every experience as an opportunity to improve and every criticism in stride to better serve the patients that will pass through our hands.”

However, I believe that as students, we can do even more to prepare ourselves for those times we’re faced with situations where patient safety is in jeopardy and our sense of morals is being tested. Practicing excellence in patient safety and ethics can be reflected by practicing excellence in our responsibilities as students. Just as you wouldn’t blindly perform an assay for the first time on a patient without reviewing the protocol, why would you arrive to your lab course without having looked over the lab procedure for that day even once?

Preparation is a key component to patient safety, and we can start by being prepared with our courses. It’s easy to think, the “samples” we work with in our lab courses are just for practice, so I don’t need to pay attention, or, I messed up on this procedure, it’ll be no big deal if I start over. While our courses are meant for us to gain practical experience, mindsets like this run contradictory to the standards that we’re expected to uphold.

That’s not to say that issues like these will never happen; to be frank, they’re quite inevitable. Adaptability and accountability are additional facets of patient safety that must be considered. Mistakes in the classroom and lab are expected, but we must take every experience as an opportunity to improve and every criticism in stride to better serve the patients that will pass through our hands. Regardless of whether they occur in our academic studies or in a professional environment, don’t move on from mistakes for the sake of moving on. Pause and understand so that we can continue to grow as stewards of our patients’ wellbeing and safety.

Similarly, demonstrating stewardship of patient safety and excellence in ethics isn’t mastered overnight; it’s a continuous process that each of us must continue to build. We can all contribute to it together, regardless of our positions in the profession. Even once our time as students has passed, there’s always more that we can do to provide better care for our patients. Staying up to date with current practices, attending continuing education opportunities, and exercising vigilance in deviations are some of the many ways we can contribute to patient safety.

And finally, we should remember that we also have a duty to our colleagues as well. In the same vein that you would correct a coworker on a potential mistake at work, we should also be present to assist our classmates when we can. No one would want to be the last one left behind when it comes to finishing coursework or understanding the concepts at hand, including ourselves. Perspectives like this not only reflect on your sense of ethics, but also further advances the goal of guaranteeing patient safety.

At the end of the day, there’s only so much that our programs can do to prepare us before we start our professional careers. Our courses can cover and teach these topics to us, but it’s ultimately our responsibility to continue demonstrating good practices in ensuring patient safety and uncompromising morals and ethics.

Safeguarding patient safety and applying our sense of ethics doesn’t start when we enter the workforce; rather, it begins when we take our first step into the classroom. Let’s make the most of that first step and every step beyond.

Jeremiah Oh is a Student at Augusta University in Augusta Georgia and is employed at Provista Diagnostics in Alpharetta, Georgia.