Sharing ideas on Risk, Human Performance, Teams and Leaders

Risky Business 2019 - A Student’s Perspective

Published: Thu 13 Jun 2019
As a medical student, an aspiring Anaesthetist and Pre-Hospitalist and a Human Factors enthusiast, when I was offered the chance to attend Risky Business 2019, I jumped at the opportunity.

A Conference Quite Unlike Any Other

Even before the event itself, it was clear from the programme that this was a conference quite unlike any other.  Featuring talks from such a broad range of experts from so many different academic and professional backgrounds, I came to the Risky Business expecting to be inspired, and this was the case from the moment the conference opened.

Risky Business Highlights

For me, given my interest in the Pre-Hospital phase of treatment, the stand-out highlights were the talks from Dr Mike Christian, Lt Col. Claire Park and Dr Robbie Lendrum. Each of these talks, addressing different aspects of the unique ergonomic challenges posed by hostile and unpredictable environments in the context of terror attacks, the Army Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) and in breaking new ground in Resuscitation respectively, gave me ample food for thought.

Situational Awareness

The key theme which I was struck by was that of fallibility, task saturation and bandwidth. What became so clear from these speakers’ experiences was that when addressing hostile scenarios, it is easy to lose situational awareness. Therefore, the challenge of management in this phase is often not the technical skills which are themselves complex, but revolve mostly around finding ways of utilising the team surrounding you to overcome the intrinsic limits of ones’ own bandwidth to achieve the optimum outcome for each patient in the most efficient and safest way possible.

Human Factors

As I proceed in my career, I do so in the knowledge that I will be involved in situations that test the limits of my bandwidth, and in recognition of the fact that the only way to prevent this being an obstacle to provision of quality care is to accept these limitations and find solutions which incorporate these important human factors into the way I practice.

The Theme of Fallibility

As someone just starting out on their career in medicine, another striking facet of Risky Business was hearing vastly experienced clinicians so freely talking about how things can so easily go wrong, often in spite of this experience being paired with the best intentions.

This theme of fallibility was continued through a fascinating and eye-opening discussion with Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba and her supervisor Dr Jonathan Cusack. The silence in the auditorium was notable, and there was a clear feeling that many who were present had been presented with similar situations. Hearing Dr Bawa-Garba’s honest and open account of events and of her immensely positive attitude in spite of the difficult circumstances was uplifting but served as a poignant reminder of precisely how high the stakes are in the medical profession.

Having started medical school as Dr Bawa-Garba’s case was ongoing, and having discussed it there through the lens of human factors and healthcare systems, it was fascinating from my perspective to hear from those involved first-hand and understand how these aspects contributed to professionals suffering a devastating outcome in spite of honourable intentions.

This session also provided a much-needed insight into how a culture of blame is not conducive to learning and can in fact inhibit the improvement of the service that the healthcare sector provides.

It will be fascinating to see the lasting impact that Dr Bawa-Garba’s case will leave on the landscape of both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education in the UK and beyond, as the benefits of a learn-not-blame culture become better characterised.

Community Sharing

In conclusion, I can say that I have been extremely lucky to be able to attend Risky Business and hope to be able to return in the future. The fact that there is such a large community all sharing the same intention to learn and improve the service in whatever sector that may be is truly uplifting.

Wealth of Lessons

As I move forward to complete an intercalated BSc in Pre-Hospital Medicine this year, where human factors form a key strand of the syllabus, I have been left with a wealth of lessons from field-leading experts, which I can refer back to for both information and inspiration.  

Understanding of Excellence

However, the two days left me with one overarching lesson. Excellence is only possible when people recognise the limitations of their own capabilities, and work with the right people, in the right system and espousing the right intentions to find ways of overcoming these limitations.

This understanding of how excellence can be achieved will serve as a key insight to help me as I proceed through my career.

Author: Oliver Sims - University of Leeds School of Medicine


“My thanks must go to the organisers for a phenomenal conference which has had such a profound impact on me and the way I will think about medicine as my career unfolds.”