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Member Spotlight: Sam Watson

Posted By Joanna Carmona, Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The American Society of Professionals in Patient Safety (ASPPS) is a membership program for professionals

and others interested in patient safety. This is part of a series of member profiles.

by Joanna Carmona


Sam Watson is a member of ASPPS

Sam R. Watson, MSA, CPPS

Senior Vice President, Patient Safety and Quality, Michigan Health & Hospital Association


What are some of the main challenges for Michigan hospitals and health systems?

With regard to challenges related to hospitals and health systems and implementing both patient safety and quality activities, there’s so much to do. The opportunities to improve quality and safety are never ending. There is a tremendous amount of reporting burden that draws time and energy that, quite frankly, diverts attention from the work of improvement.


Patients are sicker than they have ever been in hospitals, and that draws the main focus of everyone. If you think about where improvement should happen, it shouldn’t be in the quality department or the safety department; it should be at the bedside. If you are caring for very sick patients, it’s one more thing to try to work into your day.


Could you tell us about your experience on the National Patient Safety Foundation Board of Advisors and what you look forward to as you make the transition to the IHI Board?

"If you think about
where improvement should happen,

it should be at the bedside."
—Sam Watson

Having the opportunity to participate in the NPSF Board of Advisors was a tremendous experience. To be surrounded by people who are so patient safety oriented and talented was a very humbling experience for me. I learned so much by listening to conversations around the table. The insights that people brought and the perspectives they had, you don’t get unless you are in that sort of environment. Looking ahead to the opportunity to serve on the IHI Board, again, it’s a very humbling thought considering the history of that organization and what it has brought to the world of improvement. To take that and magnify the work of safety in the NPSF mission is a tremendous opportunity.


What made you interested in joining the patient safety field?

My path to the world of patient safety was not direct. I’m actually a laboratorian, and my background is in clinical lab science, which is one of the few areas of health care that has been highly reliable, especially the blood blank. Quality is in everything we do. Transitioning into the quality and safety realm within the hospital setting, I found that the opportunity to influence care is profound in that you can bring everyone together to work on the problems of quality and safety.


As with many of us, there’s also personal experience—having a loved one who was affected by diagnostic error and to see what that meant to our family—that creates an amount of passion that you can only get, I think, by experience.


What is something that most people don’t know about you? 

Outside of the joy in doing the work I do, I race mountain bikes. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of hurtling through the woods on a single track and have been racing for over 25 years. As of late I have focused more on epic races, which are 50 miles or more.


The merger of IHI and NPSF took place as NPSF marked its 20th anniversary. What are your thoughts on that anniversary and how the patient safety field has changed?

Celebrating 20 years of the work NPSF has been doing is 20 years young. This is a nascent field. If you think back to 1999 with the IOM report, and of course Dr. Leape’s work before that, NPSF has created a vibe around patient safety, without which we wouldn’t have been propelled as far as we have. With everyone at the table, including providers, patients, and the medical device manufacturer community, I think that 20 years has resulted in so much change that otherwise wouldn’t have been accomplished.


You were a co-chair of the Board subcommittee that developed Call to Action: Patient Safety Is a Public Health Crisis and Patient Safety Requires a Public Health Response. Could you tell us about that experience? 

We had a subgroup of the Board of Advisors that came together and generated the Call to Action that, ultimately, the NPSF Board of Advisors and Board of Directors supported. The concept of this Call to Action is to raise awareness around the deficits that we still have in supporting patient safety work. To look at it as a public health issue is really unique from the standpoint of understanding that it’s not a doctor problem or a hospital problem; it is as critical as safe drinking water. Unless we magnify this issue to that level, it won’t get the attention or the resources it deserves.


To learn more about the American Society of Professionals in Patient Safety, visit


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Joanna Carmona is communications coordinator at the National Patient Safety Foundation at Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Contact her at



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