When Joshua Lenchus, DO, RPh, FACP, FHM, discussed his love for chemistry with his high school guidance counselors, they told him it could take him in one of two directions: teaching or a career in pharmacy.
Intrigued by the latter option, he decided to become a volunteer in the pharmacy department at a local hospital. Soon after, he became a full-time pharmacy technician and eventually enrolled in pharmacy school at the University of Florida.
“I always knew I wanted to be a physician, and everybody needs a bachelor’s degree in something,” Dr. Lenchus says. “I thought, ‘What better way to do it than to get a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and then move into medicine?’ ”
After college, he worked as a retail pharmacist, then moved to the institutional setting, creating the position of clinical pharmacist at Wellington (Fla.) Regional Medical Center. Three years later, he entered medical school and ultimately pursued a career as an academic hospitalist.
Dr. Lenchus now serves as associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami’s (UM) Miller School of Medicine, associate program director of Jackson Memorial Hospital’s (JMH) internal medicine residency training program, and associate director of the UM-JMH Center for Patient Safety, which trains about 1,000 medical students, residents, and interns each year.
“Pharmacy has provided an invaluable background for becoming a physician,” says Dr. Lenchus, who was appointed a member of Team Hospitalist in May. “Many physicians order a medication and have no idea what the other half of the equation entails. My experience gave me a solid footing from which I could springboard.”
Q: You spend considerable time mentoring the next generation of physicians. What’s the best advice you can give them?
A: Physicians have these altruistic notions about wanting to help people, but you really have to do what you love. There’s another hospital a mile and a half away from my house, whereas Jackson is 35 miles away and it takes me an hour in transit time each way. But I couldn’t do what I’m doing now at any other facility. I stay because I love what I’m doing.
Q: Why is the UM-JMH Center for Patient Safety so beneficial?
A: The greatest benefit is the ability to be exposed to and tackle real-life scenarios in a risk-free environment. We use life-size mannequins to re-create scenarios that medical personnel will see during their training. We try to re-create the chaos that will ensue.
Q: So it’s similar to a pilot using a flight simulator.
A: Exactly. When a plane crashes and the NTSB goes to see what happened, they perform what we in medicine call a root-cause analysis. They’re not blaming an individual; they want to see what they can change on a system level to prevent an error like that from happening again. We culminate our training with a debriefing that we approach the same way, so nobody walks away thinking they failed.
Q: How effective can simulation-based education be?
A: There will be some limitations because the technology simply cannot account for every aspect of a human. But there’s a wealth of data that supports this as a pretty good surrogate. The technology provides for an incredible amount of experience and exposure without any potential harm to a patient, and it provides [trainees] an opportunity to do things they otherwise would have to wait to do until a clinical scenario demanded it.
Q: Do you think this is the wave of the future?
A: Absolutely. And as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education promulgates new rules that limit the hours trainees can work, it’s going to be incumbent on training programs to be creative in providing equal or near-equal experience in a much shorter time. Simulation can help fill that bill.
Q: You created a crisis-management simulation course for IM residents. How did that come about?
A: When we have a crisis like a code blue, I witnessed the chaos that ensued. I thought some of the paltry resuscitation rate could be due to the fact there was no meaningful communication in that scenario.
Using full-scale mannequins, I put nurses and residents into those types of situations and videotaped what ensued. Frequently we saw the same chaos we see in reality, and many rather basic, commonsensical concepts went out the window.
Q: Can you offer an example?
A: A big one is situational awareness. If the head of the gurney is in a seated position, that’s not a conducive way to do chest compressions. If the side rails of the bed are up, you can lower them so you aren’t reaching over them. Was a team leader assigned or were roles delegated? These aren’t novel concepts, but when faced with a crisis, everybody tends to focus on their own thing. In a crisis, you need to break those silos down and operate as a team.
Q: How effective is the training?
A: After the first scenario, we show the video and debrief them for 10 or 15 minutes, keying in on some behaviors that can be employed in a crisis. Then we expose them to a different crisis scenario immediately thereafter. Often we see an immediate change in their behavior.
Q: You developed a curriculum through which residents are taught in a standardized manner how to perform invasive bedside procedures. How does it work?
A: They have 12 hours of hands-on instruction using fluid-filled, ultrasound-capable mannequins. A faculty attending teaches these procedures. We took it a step further and made a four-week rotation as a mandatory component of the residency program. They carry a beeper, and any service within the hospital can call the procedure team to do one of the procedures on which they were already trained.
Q: How successful is the effort?
A: This is the beginning of our fifth year, and we’ve been called more than 4,000 times to do procedures on hospitalized patients. We’ve published our curriculum. We’ve shown a significant improvement in knowledge, technical skills, and confidence level, and we have data we’re going to publish later this year that shows our complication rates are better than complication rates that are published elsewhere.
Q: What is your biggest professional reward?
A: The ability to impact the next generation. With the procedural training alone, we have just trained our 1,000th person. Each one of them is going to take care of thousands of patients in their professional careers. That’s an expansive influence.
Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?
A: The culture of medicine. It is infused with hundreds of years of tradition and, at times, it feels like trying to move a mountain. It may take a generation to do it, but there will come a time—at least within the field of patient safety—when more people are attuned to it and understand the concepts really are lifesaving. That doesn’t happen as fast as I would like it to, but if we keep plugging away one year at a time, we will be able to make an impact.
Mark Leiser is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.