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Qualities and attributes of a safe practitioner: identification of safety skills in healthcare
  1. S Long,
  2. S Arora,
  3. K Moorthy,
  4. N Sevdalis,
  5. C Vincent
  1. Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality, Imperial College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Susannah Jane Long, Clinical Research Fellow, Geriatric and General Medicine, Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality, Room 504, Medical School Building, Imperial College (St. Mary's Campus), Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK; s.long{at}


Objectives (1) To identify a range of safety skills (attributes of a safe practitioner) relevant across clinical specialities. 2) To obtain the views of clinicians regarding their importance and trainability.

Design We used a survey and focus group of 10 patient safety experts to extract a list of safety skills. 50 experienced clinicians rated the skills in terms of importance and trainability in an electronic questionnaire.

Setting A Clinical Safety Research Unit and its associated NHS Trust, within an Academic Health Science Centre.

Results 73 skills, in 18 broad categories, were identified from the focus group and survey. The majority of clinicians felt the skills were important (most important: technical skills (98%), crisis management (98%), honesty (97.5%); least important: open-mindedness (82%), patient awareness/empathy (81.7%), humility (81.2%)). There was less agreement about trainability (16/18 categories were felt to be trainable; most trainable: technical skills (98%), anticipation/preparedness (84%), organisational skills/efficiency (83%); least trainable: conscientiousness (56%), humility (40%), open-mindedness (30%)). More surgeons than physicians felt that team awareness and crisis management skills were trainable (p=0.0099, p=0.025, respectively).

Conclusions We have identified a preliminary set of safety skills, which with further refinement could form the template for the development of a formal taxonomy of the qualities and attributes of the safe practitioner. Experts and practitioners agree about the importance of the individual skills. The fact that the majority of these were felt by experienced cross-speciality clinicians to be trainable is encouraging in terms of the possibility of developing generic safety curricula.

  • Patient safety
  • education
  • training
  • safety skills
  • health professions education

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  • Funding The Clinical Safety Research Unit is affiliated with the Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which is funded by the National Institute of Health Research. The research described here was supported by the National Institute of Health Research and the Health Foundation.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was carried out with REC approval, reference number: 07/H0712/113.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.