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Member Spotlight: Susan Mellott

Posted By Joanna Carmona, Thursday, August 10, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, August 8, 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 

Susan Mellott

Susan Mellott is a member of ASPPS


Susan Mellott, PhD, RN, CPHQ, FNAHQ

Associate Professor, Texas Women’s University

Could you tell us about your experience teaching patient safety to nursing students at Texas Women’s University?

I’ve been at Texas Women’s University full time since 2012 and realized a couple of years ago that there wasn’t much patient safety being taught in the undergraduate curriculum. I knew that we needed to put something in, so I started doing a research study where we embedded didactic as well as clinical patient safety concepts into the curriculum, and we’ve just finished our first semester. Students get the general patient safety overview and also discuss medical errors, near-misses, just culture, human factors, etc. Then the clinical faculty will observe them in a clinical setting, looking for things that either the students don’t do right or things they see nurses not doing right to take back and discuss in relation to those same concepts.


I also performed a needs assessment and found out that some faculty may not be fully up to date about patient safety. Some need to update their knowledge, others need greater confidence in teaching what they know.


What it comes down to is that we are redoing the entire undergraduate curriculum and there will be threads of patient safety throughout.


"They may think, 'Okay, we just have to keep the patient safe,' but it is far more than that."

—Susan Mellott

What made you interested in patient safety?

That’s easy. I cannot separate, as Don Berwick said at the 2017 Patient Safety Congress, patient safety from quality. I’ve always been involved with patient safety, but I see now that I’m teaching more of a need to move the courses over to the patient safety side. Human factors just keeps pulling me more and more into that and if I could keep working with human factors and patient safety, I’d be in seventh heaven.

How do we move forward to promote a culture of safety?

First of all, there are people who don’t understand what a culture of safety is. They may think “Okay, we just keep the patient safe,” but it is far more than that. Learning that Just Culture is a process, not the individual that makes mistakes, and that everybody will make a mistake at some point in time is so important. We need to look at the processes and refine those so that we prevent mistakes from happening or, if something does happen, we put in a safeguard to prevent it from getting to the patient. That’s one big factor.


People also fail to understand how you move from a basic mistake over to intended behavior and that there are different degrees as you move over. The way I teach it is: You know what you are supposed to do and you do it. But then you talk on the phone while you are driving with the idea that surely an accident won’t happen to me so you are willing to take that little bit of a risk. All of us in health care know that people find shortcuts and ways to get around doing things and so when we do that, we move into the same category as talking on the phone while driving. 


This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of NPSF. What do you think that means for the field of patient safety?

When Total Quality Management came out, no one knew what that was, but people were trying to put it into shape to have a quality culture within their organizations. Then in 1999, To Err Is Human came out, and many in the health care community said “Let’s drop this quality thing and get this patient safety culture figured out.” Many places still do not have a patient safety culture and they don’t have a quality culture either. The two things together, as I said before, I don’t think can be separated. The problem is that it has not been ingrained into a lot of organizations because the leadership focuses on other priorities like the financials, etc. However, with this being the 20th anniversary and with NPSF joining with IHI, people are going to take notice. To have the merger take place on the 20th anniversary is like a new celebration. 



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


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