A true calling to save lives, meet the driving force behind TCOM’s patient safety course 

By Steven Bartolotta 

Lillee Smith Gelinas 666 X 750When you hear the passion in Lillee Gelinas’, DNP, MS, RN, CPPS, FAAN, voice, speaking about patient safety, you realize how personal it has become for her. The statistics that Dr. Gelinas recounts are staggering. Roughly, 1,100 patients a day are dying because of preventable medical errors.

“That’s the equivalent of three jumbo jetliners crashing every day with no survivors,” said Dr. Gelinas, a Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine Assistant Professor.

It was in 2016, while studying to take the Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS™) Certification Exam, that patient safety became her passion.

“Although I’ve been a nurse administrator for 30 years, I didn’t fully understand the science of safety and what I didn’t know about preventable harm until studying for the exam,” Dr. Gelinas said. “I viewed it as my own personal accountability to learn everything I could about patient safety and the science that supports it.”

To drive change and impact the shocking mortality figures, Dr. Gelinas created in 2020 the nation’s first and only Patient Safety Course specifically designed for medical students, preparing them to sit for the CPPS™ Certification Exam.

The curriculum is integrated with the Professional Identify and Health Systems Practice Course led by Dr. Janet Lieto, who was instrumental in strategy development. Health systems practice and patient safety content provide students with the tools to better understand and improve the health care system in which they will practice medicine. 

The course has been an overwhelming success as it prepares students to sit for the CPPS™ Certification Exam.  In just 17 months, 352 medical students and 27 faculty members from TCOM, including clerkship directors, have completed the Patient Safety Course.  

“It’s very humbling to have designed a course that’s been embraced on such a large scale, starting with the leadership at TCOM and HSC,” Dr. Gelinas said. “I think the fact that Dr. Michael Williams (HSC President) totally understands the importance of patient safety and is a real believer in it was crucial.  Dr. Frank Filipetto (TCOM Dean) took my patient safety course, successfully passed the exam and today is a huge advocate. I was really impressed that he wanted to complete the course to understand what the students would be experiencing themselves. . .that says a lot about his leadership.”  

Medical student outcome results are astounding, as TCOM has achieved a 92 percent pass rate on the CPPS™ Certification Exam compared with the international average pass rate of 70 percent. Ninety-eight percent of TCOM’s Class of 2022 has achieved the CPPS™ credential.  

Along with the President of the Certification Board for Professionals in Patient Safety, Dr. Gelinas was invited to sit on an IHI national forum panel titled the “Value of Patient Safety Certification” and the role that it plays in advancing patient safety. TCOM clearly has achieved national recognition for its focus on patient safety.  

“So many TCOM faculty and clerkship directors who have embraced the course, are CPPS™ certified and can now reinforce in their courses and clinical rotations the safety science the students learned,”  Dr. Gelinas said. “It is important that the student experience doesn’t end with passing the course. With such a broad emphasis in clinical rotations and beyond into residencies, TCOM is passing the safety torch to a new generation of safety leaders.” 

With Dr. Gelinas’ leadership, TCOM is reducing preventable harm and transforming the way health care professionals approach patient safety, one student at a time. 

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