Advances in Simulation
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BACKGROUND: Residents in surgical specialties face a steep hierarchy when managing medical crises. Hierarchy can negatively impact patient safety when team members are reluctant to speak up. Yet, simulation has scarcely been previously utilized to qualitatively explore the way residents in surgical specialities navigate this challenge. The study aimed to explore the experiences of residents in one surgical specialty, obstetrics and gynecology (Ob/Gyn), when challenging hierarchy, with the goal of informing future interventions to optimize resident learning and patient safety.
METHODS: Eight 3rd- and 4th-year Ob/Gyn residents participated in a simulation scenario in which their supervising physician made an erroneous medical decision that jeopardized the wellbeing of the labouring mother and her foetus. Residents participated in 30-45 min semi-structured interviews that explored their approach to managing this scenario. Transcribed interviews were analysed using qualitative thematic inquiry by three research team members, finalizing the identified themes once consensus was reached.
RESULTS: Study results show that the simulated scenario did create an experience of hierarchy that challenged residents. In response, residents adopted three distinct communication strategies while confronting hierarchy: (1) messaging - a mere reporting of existing clinical information; (2) interpretive - a deliberate construction of clinical facts aimed at swaying supervising physician's clinical decision; and (3) advocative - a readiness to confront the staff physician's clinical decision. Furthermore, residents utilized coping mechanisms to mitigate challenges related to confronting hierarchy, namely deflecting responsibility, diminishing urgency, and drafting allies. Both these communication strategies and coping mechanisms shaped their practice when challenging hierarchy to preserve patient safety.
CONCLUSIONS: Understanding the complex processes in which residents engage when confronting hierarchy can serve to inform the development and study of curricular innovations. Informed by these processes, we must move beyond solely teaching residents to speak up and consider a broader curriculum that targets not only residents but also faculty physicians and the learning environment within the organization.
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