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Patient safety: helping medical students understand error in healthcare
  1. Rona Patey1,
  2. Rhona Flin2,
  3. Brian H Cuthbertson3,
  4. Louise MacDonald1,
  5. Kathryn Mearns2,
  6. Jennifer Cleland4,
  7. David Williams5
  1. 1Department of Anaesthesia, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen, UK
  2. 2Industrial Psychology Research Centre, School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  3. 3Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Health Services Research Unit, Institute of Applied Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  4. 4Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  5. 5Department of Medicine, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Rona Patey
 Department of Anaesthesia, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZN, UK; Rona.Patey{at}


Objective: To change the culture of healthcare organisations and improve patient safety, new professionals need to be taught about adverse events and how to trap and mitigate against errors. A literature review did not reveal any patient safety courses in the core undergraduate medical curriculum. Therefore a new module was designed and piloted.

Design: A 5-h evidence-based module on understanding error in healthcare was designed with a preliminary evaluation using self-report questionnaires.

Setting: A UK medical school.

Participants: 110 final year students.

Measurements and main results: Participants completed two questionnaires: the first questionnaire was designed to measure students’ self-ratings of knowledge, attitudes and behaviour in relation to patient safety and medical error, and was administered before and approximately 1 year after the module; the second formative questionnaire on the teaching process and how it could be improved was administered after completion of the module.

Conclusions: Before attending the module, the students reported they had little understanding of patient safety matters. One year later, only knowledge and the perceived personal control over safety had improved. The students rated the teaching process highly and found the module valuable. Longitudinal follow-up is required to provide more information on the lasting impact of the module.

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  • Funding: National Patient Safety Agency award for developing patient safety training in the undergraduate medical curriculum.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethical approval: Ethical approval was sought for the module evaluation but was considered not necessary by the Grampian local research ethics committee.

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