Background: Substantial efforts are focused on the high prevalence of patient harm due to medical errors and the mechanisms to prevent them. The potential role of the medical student as a valuable member of the team in preventing patient harm has, however, often been overlooked.
Methods: Four cases are presented from two US academic health centers in which medical students prevented or were in a position to prevent patient harm from occurring. The authors directly participated in each case.
Results: The types of harm prevented included averting non-sterile conditions, missing medications, mitigating exposure to highly contagious patients, and respecting patients’ “do not resuscitate” requests.
Conclusion: Medical students are often overlooked as valuable participants in ensuring patient safety. These cases show that medical students may be an untapped resource for medical error prevention. Medical students should be trained to recognize errors and to speak up when errors occur. Those supervising students should welcome and encourage students to actively communicate observed errors and near misses and should work to eliminate all intimidation by medical hierarchy that can prevent students from being safety advocates.
- medical students
- patient safety
- medical error
- undergraduate medical education
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Competing interests: none.