Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Wingman: A wingman is a pilot who supports another in a potentially dangerous flying environment. The wingman’s role is to add an element of mutual support to aerial combat. The presence of a wingman makes the flight both offensively and defensively more capable by increasing firepower and situational awareness, … and increasing the ability to employ more dynamic tactics. -Wikipedia

High reliable healthcare relies on the power of a team. No single clinician or staff member can have the impact on a patient’s care and outcome as that of a well-developed team of staff/care providers.

This year’s National Patient Safety Awareness Week theme is “United for Patient Safety.” This is a fitting theme and one that underscores the power of teamwork in promoting patient safety. Each of us plays a critical role in shared accountability for the care of patients. We must rely upon each other to assure that, when blind spots or lapses present vulnerabilities to patients, we will serve as each other’s “wingman” and intervene.

There is incredible power in the collective to discover flaws in systems and processes and in uniting together to develop solutions that remove risks from patients. This year, during National Patient Safety Awareness Week, I challenge all of us, with our teams, to commit to scanning our environments in robust ways to surface safety threats and to join together to creatively address those threats.

In my leadership journey, I have experienced great examples of nurses supporting each other to avoid harm to patients. One event I recall involved a new nurse working in an ICU who had a very complicated patient and had just received a new admission from the OR. On the other side of the unit, a patient had just had a change in condition and a lot of the team was deployed assisting that patient. This nurse was about to administer a medication that required an independent double check. Feeling rushed and knowing that the team was busy she was about to take a shortcut as the medication was one that she was familiar with and had given many times.

The charge nurse on that day had been assisting with the patient having a clinical emergency. Once that situation was settled she went to check on the rest of the unit. She encountered this nurse in the med room about to go and administer the med and was able to intervene and support the required safety checks.

This type of a story is not unique and occurs every day in healthcare organizations. There is power in establishing more formal “partner systems” and being intentional about how charge nurses and other unit based clinical leaders can support safety and quality. We need systems that support staff to do the right thing every patient, every time. In our complex environments, this requires us to serve as one another’s wingmen.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” -Ken Blanchard

Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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