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How a Fresh Take on Patient Safety Can Empower Pathologists 

As physicians, we carry a lot of weight on shoulders.  Many of us are perfectionists who can be hypercritical of our own performance.  When we think of errors, we tend to equate “error” with “I did something wrong” or “I was not good enough,” as if every error is a personal, individual failing. 

For pathologists, an error can be crippling.  When you learn that you have been involved in an error, you feel frozen, insecure; if it was a diagnostic error, you can lose confidence in your diagnostic ability and hesitate to sign out even the most basic of cases. It makes you question your abilities as a provider at a fundamental level. Even the simple fear and anxiety of errors can take a toll.

These mounting pressures suggest we can benefit from a change in perspective. I gained that when I recently completed the CAP’s patient safety self-assessment program. And while such coursework is a requirement for my continuing certification as young pathologist, I saw first-hand that even the most seasoned colleagues among us can benefit.  

Insight into a More Effective Way to Prevent Errors

The course and its resources deliver a shift in perspective, offering insight into a more effective way to prevent errors: by building barriers against them instead of expecting individual perfection. Looking at errors from more of a bird’s eye view, considering how whole systems and can contribute to errors or help safeguard us from them, the program delivers a perspective that empowers pathologists. It shifted me away from the notion that we must always perform perfectly, to thinking about how I can change systems, spaces, and work culture to ensure we do a better job. 

Before this course, terms like Six Sigma, lean processing, and root cause analysis were jargon that I couldn’t apply. But by focusing on a more systematic perspective to quality improvement, the CAP approach to patient safety taught me the proper language. That knowledge is key because it’s hard to be part of a growing conversation if you don’t know the lingo!  Moreover, by discussing large concepts like “systems thinking” and “lean processing” and then using pathology-specific case examples, I learned how to apply these concepts to real-world problems we encounter in everyday practice.

To be sure, pathologists have a range of options for continuing medical education. Options for ABP-approved patient safety programs are fewer. For me, flexibility was paramount. I needed an option that allowed me to start and stop the course, picking up where I left off—which the CAP option includes. Because who doesn’t have to squeeze CME into an already busy schedule that rarely has several contiguous hours available to do a course all at once?  In addition, I can go back and review modules anytime as I apply the practical education to my work at UAMS. 

An old adage advises us, “to make the system work for you, instead of against you.”  We should all feel empowered to do that in our practice. A fresh perspective on patient safety can help. 


Creating a Culture of Patient Safety is approved by the American Board of Pathology and meets the Continuing Certification requirements for Component I – Patient Safety Self-Assessment Programs. Participants may earn five CME/SAM/CPD credits upon successful completion.


Felicia D. Allard, MD, FCAP, is an assistant professor, pathology, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. Dr. Allard is board certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology as well as Cytopathology. Her interests include fine-needle aspiration as well as the pathogenesis and diagnosis of gastrointestinal and hepatopancreaticobiliary diseases, particularly in pancreatic neoplasia.

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