Training the Next Generation of Patient Safety Leaders

The Doctors Company Foundation funds immersive patient safety education for medical students, nursing students, and resident physicians

Grantee Profile

The Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety is a novel patient safety education opportunity that seeks to remedy the gap of a formal systematic patient safety and quality curriculum within healthcare education.


  • Sponsors of the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety have received $1,081,332, the greatest amount of grant funds from The Doctors Company Foundation.
  • Since 2010, The Doctors Company Foundation has provided funds annually to these sponsors. The funds support multiple, week-long immersive learning experiences around current patient safety issues and risk reduction strategies for medical students and resident physicians.
  • The Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety was officially launched in 2010 in Telluride, Colorado, and has since expanded to the Washington, D.C., region; Napa, California; and internationally to Qatar and Australia.
  • Nearly 500 nurses, medical students, and residents have been trained through the program, going on to become patient safety advocates and change agents in their own practices and organizations.

The Challenge: Improving Patient Safety

Physicians and hospital staff face a confluence of ethical, professional, legal, and economic issues around patient safety, transparency, disclosure, and open and honest communication skills. These issues not only contribute to medical errors and adverse events—but also prevent key learnings and organizational change.

“We believe, as does The Doctors Company Foundation, that the way you change culture and reduce patient risk is to focus on the education and training of future healthcare leaders. To build a true culture of safety for patients, we need to equip the next generation of caregivers with the right tools, skills, competencies, and behaviors—before they come into the profession.”
–David Mayer, MD, Vice President of Quality and Safety, MedStar Health, and founder of the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety­

Building a Culture of Elevated Safety and Improved Patient Care

In 2005, Dr. Mayer led a roundtable with healthcare leaders in patient safety and medical education, along with patients and families, in Telluride, Colorado, to engage in open conversation about patient safety. The following year, those conversations led to the creation of a curriculum in patient safety for health science learners at the beginning of their careers.

Supported by funding from The Doctors Company Foundation, the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety was created as a week-long immersive learning experience for medical students and resident physicians. It was focused on teaching medical risk reduction concepts and building a culture of patient safety, transparency, and optimal outcomes in patient care.

“Often, the culture of medicine discourages speaking up about safety concerns, but our hope is that by empowering young doctors and nurses from the beginning of their careers, a new generation of healthcare leaders will change that culture and improve outcomes for patients,” Dr. Mayer said.

Making Patient Safety Personal

One of the distinctive aspects of the academy is its focus on student-directed learning and unique teaching methods such as role-playing, trust-building exercises, and small-group meetings that foster honest discussion and the sharing of powerful patient stories.

“At the academy, attendees actively participate and share because they’re in a safe haven,” Dr. Mayer said. “They’re surrounded by people passionately invested in making patient care safer, and they learn to feel comfortable speaking up and preventing medical error.”

For Caitlin Farrell, MPH, OMS-IV and 2014 graduate, the academy was particularly poignant. During her experience she shared her deeply personal motivation to attend medical school and improve patient safety: the loss of her father due to a medical error.

“A bond of trust happens very early and people felt empowered as the week went on,” Farrell said. “You’re getting great feedback from other people and, most of all, you know you’re not alone.”

The program also brings in patients and families to share their experiences, helping to foster discussion about why healthcare professionals need to talk about medical mistakes, admit errors to patients and families, and learn from them.

Becoming Change Agents in the Field

As part of the program’s acceptance process, all students must make a commitment to complete one patient safety-focused project to reduce medical risk and improve quality of care. Mayer notes that graduates keep the program leaders updated on progress, and that many alumni have gone on to lead real change at their home institutions—even taking on risk reduction roles, such as becoming chief quality and safety officers after their training.

The alumni network also supports participants long after they graduate.

“My experience had a direct influence on my career path,” Farrell said. “I’ve connected with alumni at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement forum, taken population health courses, and realized that pursuing a career in quality improvement and patient safety is a major aspect of what I want to focus on in my medical career.”

Further, the inspiring environment of the academy works to transform students into ambassadors. Since Farrell graduated from the academy, she has helped a student from her medical school to apply and attend the academy each year. During her recent interviews for residency, Farrell’s palpable enthusiasm for the program has even inspired some residents to apply to the academy themselves.

“I can’t help but share that the experience offers a real foundation for the change that we need to see in healthcare,” she said.

An upcoming book, “Shattering the Wall,” will highlight students’ reflections and insights on their academy-based learnings about patient safety. The book will raise awareness about the patient safety movement and, in particular, the need for improved transparency and communication between healthcare professionals, patients, and families.

“We can’t thank The Doctors Company Foundation enough for supporting this continuing experience for future healthcare leaders,” Dr. Mayer said.

“My experience had a direct influence on my career path.”