Guest Blogger: A Flying Doctor

This week’s PrivateFly guest blog comes from Sara Ferguson – a flying doctor based in Dunedoo in Australia.
To become a PrivateFly guest blogger send your blog to blog.privatefly.com

“How did you learn how not to make mistakes?”

This was a really thought provoking question from a ten year old. How do we learn how not to make mistakes in medicine?
I don’t think I ever had a lecture or a formal training session on ‘How not to make mistakes’. Instead you pick up tips from others, learn as you go and (to some extent) learn from your mistakes – which could have a terrible outcome on someone’s health.

I was talking to my brother (a British RAF pilot in London) and asked him “How did you learn in the airforce how not to make mistakes?”
Adam said: “I have never forgotten a wise old instructor called Squadron Leader De Costa. He told us “Never take your body somewhere your mind hasn’t been.””

Squadron Leader De Costa taught his young pilots to talk to rehearse situations so that when they find themselves in a new situation they have a least practised the situation in their mind. During training pilots were encouraged after each flight or exercise to talk with their colleagues very openly about their mistakes so that they would all share and learn from them.

Medicine seems to be behind the world of aviation but we are following this path. In hospitals we work through a reporting system that is intended to review the processes or steps that occur in each incident so that we can prevent future errors. In my everyday work I have ‘self checking systems’, for example at the end of each consultation I check the patient’s medication list with them. Of course there are official checks, for example with prescribing medication, the prescription is checked by a computer, then the pharmacist, and we encourage all patients to carry a list of their medication with dosage information.

Working in rural practice in Australia you are certainly isolated but meeting with colleagues and sharing experiences is greatly encouraged in medicine today. I have a Rural Doctors Conference to attend in a few days and I expect there will be sessions on sharing knowledge and experiences. Online programs to communicate with other doctors around Australia and the world are becoming more frequent and in general admitting your mistakes and learning from your own and others is the way medicine is heading.

I remember cycling from London to Brighton in England with my brother and his RAF friends. During the cycle ride I asked one of them to teach me the international phonetic alphabet and I have used it ever since. In Australia I had always found my accent or theirs caused confusion as my ‘a’ or ‘u’ sounded so different from an Australian ‘a’ or ‘u’. Now I always use the international alphabet and find it so helpful.

After that trip home to the UK I spoke to the Authority officer in charge in Canberra about this experience and how it has made a difference for me in terms of reducing errors. Now most of the Authority officer operators use the phonetic alphabet. It seems like such an easy thing to learn and use, and one day it may help you prevent a mistake that could change your life!

I recommend learning it by reading out street signs in the phonetic alphabet. You could even go to a coffee shop and say:
Please may I have a “Foxtrot Lima Alpha Tango, Whiskey Hotel India Tango Echo?”

A – ALPHA
B – BRAVO
C – CHARLIE
D – DELTA
E – ECHO
F – FOXTROT
G – GOLF
H – HOTEL
I – INDIA
J – JULIET
K – KILO
L – LIMA
M – MIKE
N – NOVEMBER
O – OSCAR
P – PAPA
Q – QUEBEC
R – ROMEO
S – SIERRA
T – TANGO
U – UNIFORM
V – VICTOR
W – WHISKY
X – X-RAY
Y – YANKEE
Z – ZULU