Information for Health Profession Educators

Why educators and student role models are important to a just culture

Students and healthcare workers need to accept that humans are not perfect. They need to be aware of all the factors in our complex health system that can influence their ability to deliver the safe and effective care they intend.

Healthcare workers, including students, must trust that they will be dealt with fairly if they are ever in a situation where a patient was harmed or nearly harmed by the care they received.

Students should be supported, not intimidated, by other students, teachers, and healthcare worker mentors if they feel a need to report an error or something they do not believe is safe for patients.

If a patient safety incident occurs, it important for peers to support each other rather than blaming those who are involved.

Academic institutions and programs should follow the principles and practices of a just culture. If students are involved in a patient safety incident they need to be treated the same as they will be treated when they are a healthcare worker in practice.

Top 6 things that teachers and academic institutions can do to foster a just culture:

  1. Instruct students about the principles of a just culture and what that should look like in their future practice.
  2. Instruct students on human factors and how system factors and system design influence a person’s actions.
  3. Develop and communicate to students, faculty members, and role models a just process that will be used to assess a student’s actions if they are involved in a patient safety incident. Use this as an opportunity to show how the program is following the principles of a just culture.
  4. Use patient safety incidents in which students are involved as an opportunity to improve both the care delivery system and the educational system. 
  5. Speak openly about past incidents involving students. This helps raise awareness about imperfect systems and the challenges faced by people who want to do their best to help patients but inadvertently end up harming them.
  6. Treat students who have been involved in a patient safety incident with respect, dignity, and compassion. Actively support them – communicate with them, determine if they need some time off, connect them with peer support, and if required refer them to professional support.