Researchers have found that letting medical students observe first-hand how medical errors and near misses happen can be very instructive in preventing mistakes in their future practice.

An analysis of a pilot program, run between 2008 and 2009 by Johns Hopkins Medical School and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, found that participating medical students had a far greater understanding of why errors occur and what can be done to prevent them after participating in the program. The results of the study were published in BMJ Quality & Safety.

The program was part of a pediatric rotation for second-, third- and fourth-year medical students at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. The medical students followed and observed physicians and nurses doing daily activities in inpatient and outpatient units.

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Students witnessed medical errors in the making, and close calls, and were required to deconstruct the errors. At the end of each day, students would discuss the near misses they had observed, and talk about ways to avoid them. The students were also encouraged to log errors into the hospital’s electronic record-keeping system, and speak to physicians about potential errors before patients were affected. One hundred and eight students took part in the pilot program, and afterwards, the students reported a three times greater willingness to report medical errors.

Most students felt that the program should be part of the regular medical school curriculum. Students also had a much greater awareness that they themselves were capable of making errors, an understanding that is important in preventing them. The students were also better able to understand why and how errors happen, and what things contribute to higher risks of errors. The course has since been made part of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine curriculum.