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I'm a veterinary professional... Why do I need to know about Human Factors?

You may be starting to hear the term “Human Factors” more and more within the veterinary profession (which is great!), but what exactly is the field of Human Factors, and why do you – as a veterinary professional – need to know about it?

To start with… What do we mean by Human Factors?

The study of Human Factors is a well-established discipline across many professions from human medicine and to aviation, and more recently, veterinary medicine. It combines scientific knowledge about the human body, mind, and behaviour to better understand both our capabilities and our limitations – both of which, you will recognise, impact upon patient care.

Put simply, it can be defined as learning how being human can enhance, and not limit, our performance in veterinary practice.

How often have you nearly made the same mistake someone else did last week? Or snapped at a colleagues or client because you haven’t stopped for a break all day? Factors such as stress and fatigue, barriers to communication, and poor workplace culture are all examples of Human Factors that can prevent the knowledge, skills and good intentions of our veterinary teams from achieving their intended outcomes and being at their best.

Why is the science of Human Factors relevant to me as a veterinary professional?

As veterinary professionals, we possess a huge amount of skill, knowledge, and experience – both clinical and non-clinical. These are essential to our roles.

However, simply possessing these skills alone does not automatically lead to safe care for our patients - our performance as members of the vet team is impacted by so much more. When we think about it, it seems so obvious! Of course we perform better when we are rested, hydrated, nourished, and working within a positive workplace culture where we feel safe to talk about our great results… and our not so great ones. Yet how many of us truly prioritise these factors when thinking about how we or our team could perform better and provide the highest level of care for our patients, as well as reduce the risk of errors? Do we truly recognise just how much these “Human Factors” impact on our patient outcomes on a daily basis?

Improving clinical performance and patient safety all starts with knowledge and awareness. Once we understand what mistakes are being made, and what factors are leaving people vulnerable to making them, we can take steps to reduce the chances of, and mitigate the effects of, mistakes in practice: looking at not just what happened, or who was involved, but why and how did it come to happen.

Creating and supporting this “learning culture” and helping our team members to develop and nurture a growth mindset are critical to creating practices and organisations where people feel psychologically safe and can perform at their best.

How would Human Factors training enhance my role in the veterinary team?

Patient safety and reducing the risk and impact of errors in practice are a big part of Human Factors, but when implemented well, it can be a lot more. When we focus on ‘as many things as possible going right’ compared with ‘as few things as possible going wrong’, we increase our potential to learn and develop both our teams and our performance. In addition, how people feel is critical to how they function.

Learning how we have evolved to respond to stress on a physiological level will help you switch on your rational brain when faced with a stressful situation, and not your sympathetic response.

Recognising just how much factors such as tiredness, hunger, thirst and worry impact our clinical decision making – and how coming up with strategies to reduce them will enhance your performance and wellbeing.

Understanding how to make positive systems changes in your organisation, and shift from a blame culture to a “just culture” will enable you and your team to perform at your best and deliver the highest level of patient care possible.

A workplace in which learning from our good days and our bad days is openly encouraged at all levels of the team is far more likely to achieve their goals and, ultimately, will be one that people want to join and stay in.

Where can I find out more?

VetLed deliver training courses, coaching initiatives and positive change programmes to foster high performance in veterinary teams. Our experience across the fields of healthcare, aviation, Human Factors training, elite sport and psychology have led to our holistic approach to performance.

We are excited to be bringing the first ever Veterinary Human Factors Conference on Friday 26th February 2021. Whether you have previous experience of Human Factors, or if this topic is completely new, The Veterinary Human Factors Conference will benefit the ability of your team to deliver safer patient care.

To find out more or register your interest, email us on – we love hearing from you.

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