James Madison University

PA Week Presentation Teaches Impact of Medical Errors

By: Dina Manco
Posted October 27, 2015

On October 5, the first day of Physician Assistant Week, the Physician Assistant Student Society (PASS) welcomed husband and wife Alan Fitch and Cathy Motley-Fitch to present "Care, Communication, and Compassion: Lola's Story." The event relayed their personal account of how preventable medical errors drastically impact families across the country.

In 2009, the Fitch family experienced a tragedy: their twins were born prematurely, and after seven days of hospitalization, baby Lola passed away due to misdiagnosis and substandard care. She showed signs of illness for three days, but was not diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis until the night prior to her death. Her attending physicians and nurses noted changes in her health records, but failed to take the necessary steps to combat her illness. A third-year resident voiced concern about Lola's condition, but was dismissed by the attending physician who had not examined Lola in the 12 hours preceding her death.

Cathy Motley-Fitch states, "We're traveling around to bring awareness to the increasing number of preventable deaths each year. In the year 2000, there were 98,000, and a current study that is out right now [states there are] 400,000 medical death errors a year." She adds, "We're hoping [health students and professionals will] learn how to practice medicine better and to be more aware. Not only to know they get plenty of training in clinical skills, but we're hoping they hear the human side of it as well."

 In the presentation, the Fitch's detailed the frustrating interactions with medical staff who seemed to have a lack of attention and a wealth of apathy regarding Lola's health.

PA Program Director Gerald Weniger says the Fitch family served to educate the PA program since they discuss the importance of teamwork in healthcare; the PA's, the nurse practitioners, and the nurses all play key roles in caring for each patient.

PA student Ashley Ashby comments, "[The presentation] definitely brought me more awareness of working as a team…that every link in the chain is important down to the parents. So everyone has to work together for cohesive care."

Weniger says, "I hope it's from a content aspect to consider medical error and how much of a problem it is in the country and health system and to do what the speakers spoke about: to pay attention, to focus, to listen but also to consider the compassion side of it and saying sorry when you do something wrong and admitting fault."

The program was especially relevant for PA week which aims to reflect on the work of PA students and professionals. PASS held other events such as a blood drive and a fundraiser during the week to raise awareness of who PA's are and what their profession entails.

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