Scholarship draws attention to patient safety

Something good has stemmed from one student’s error: a new scholarship in Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions to recognize graduate students for their commitment to patient safety.

“When presenting for general anesthesia, there is an almost sacred trust that the public puts in our hands and with that comes a great deal of humility and responsibility,” said Michael D. Fallacaro, D.N.S., C.R.N.A., professor and chairman of the Department of Nurse Anesthesia in the College of Health Professions.

Inspired by that former student who, at a national forum, cited her own practice error as an educational example and the commitment to safety by others, Fallacaro established in 2011 the Fallacaro Patient Safety Scholarship in Nurse Anesthesia with a gift commitment of $10,000. The scholarship will be awarded to a nurse anesthesia student who best represents a spirit of service to others through dedication and contribution to patient safety.

“Using her own experience to help educate others was a selfless act of professionalism,” Fallacaro said of the student.

In another example, a woman’s potential to have a child was saved because a nurse anesthesia student spent extra time getting to know her during the patient interview and served as her advocate and anesthetist during surgery.

“Graduate students like these need to be acknowledged and their experiences shared with others,” he said.

Anesthesia is safer than ever because of new therapeutics and greater educational preparation of providers in the field, Fallacaro said.

“There are significant risks associated with anesthesia, and providers accept the high degree of accountability assumed in their roles,” he said. “While mishaps are very rare, when they do occur they can prove catastrophic. However, we can reduce the incidence of human error if we have robust systems in place, such as checklists, safety protocols, questioning attitudes and effective communications, to catch our errors before we make them.”

Ranked No. 1 in the country since 2004 by U.S. News & World Report, VCU’s programs in nurse anesthesia include a master’s and a clinical doctorate as well as a combined degree offering.

“The nationally ranked reputation that our nurse anesthesia program enjoys can be attributed to the department’s leadership, its faculty and the quality of our students,” said Cecil B. Drain, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s College of Health Professions. “The Fallacaro Patient Safety Scholarship recognizes our graduate students and illustrates our devotion to the education of tomorrow’s health care providers.”

Helping others comes naturally for Fallacaro and he’s happy to give back to his profession.

“In our specialty, we are privileged to warm ourselves around fires we didn’t build,” Fallacaro said. “We all drink from the well we didn’t dig. Each generation has laid the groundwork for those who come next. My hope is that our department will produce graduates who will go on to accomplish things that the faculty and I could never imagine doing ourselves.”

To learn more about the College of Health Professions, contact Jessica Feinberg-Gurganus, assistant dean for development and external affairs, at (804) 828-3269