Primarily when we talk about safety in simulation we are referring to patient safety. Patient safety in two senses. The first is that one of the main reasons for carrying out simulation is to improve patient safety by looking for latent errors, improving teamwork, testing equipment, etc. The second is that "no patient is harmed" during simulation exercises.
In the brief before the simulation event, safety is also often mentioned in the establishment of a "safe learning environment (SLE)" and, in this context, it refers to Learner Safety. A recent clinical experience reinforced my appreciation of the SLE.
It was 10pm and I was resident on-call when my phone went off to tell me that a poly-trauma was on its way in. 2 adults and 3 children had life-threatening injuries after a collision on the motorway. Although I have been an anaesthetist for 13 years, a consultant for 5 of those, my clinical experience of polytrauma in adults is minimal and in children is essentially nil. I have looked after a man who had major injuries and 95% burns after an industrial explosion, another man who suffered severe injuries after he ran his car underneath a flatbed truck and the occasional stabbing and shooting victims. In children I have intubated a 2-week-old "shaken baby" and anaesthetised a large number of children on the trauma list for broken wrists, arms, ankles, etc.
When faced with infrequent events it is not unusual to carry out a memory scan to draw on previously obtained knowledge relevant to the situation at hand. I remembered the above patients and I also remembered a simulation course I had been on at the SCSCHF: Managing Emergencies in Paediatric Anaesthesia for Consultants (MEPA-FC). My scenario involved a boy who had been run down by a car, he had a number of injuries including a closed intracranial bleed. My first thought when I remembered this scenario was "I did okay". Then I mentally went through the scenario again, thought about what had gone well and what, with input from the debrief, I should have done better. This then was the knowledge I had front-loaded and the emotional state I was in when the patients arrived in the ED.
When I talked through the above with David Rowney, the facilitator on the MEPA-FC course, he expressed surprise that my first thought was "I did okay" rather than remembering the Take Home Messages for my scenario. But there it is. It may be that I am very different from other people but I think it is not unusual to have an emotive reaction to a memory before a logical one.
This then made me think about the simulation participant who might not have had the SLE I had. The participant who, after their paediatric trauma scenario, had been dragged over the coals and made to feel incompetent. What would the emotional state of that doctor be as they walked down to the ED? And how would that affect their performance?
This blogpost is not a plea to "take it easy" or "be gentle" with participants. Poor performance must be addressed, but it must be addressed in a constructive manner. Help the participant understand their performance gaps and how to bridge them, while at the same time remembering "I'm okay. You're okay." Very few of us come to work (or to the simulation centre) to perform poorly. In fact most people in a simulation are trying to perform at the peak of their ability. When they fall short it is important to help them figure out why that is, while re-assuring them that they are not "bad".