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Emergency Anthropology


This talk, from Dr Eve Purdy, was given at our 2022 DFTB conference.

The Hospital’s Cultural Landscape

In the heart of the hospital, where medical emergencies unfold, and teams collaborate under intense pressure, the significance of culture becomes apparent. Dr Eve Purdy, a Canadian emergency physician and anthropologist, unravels the complex dynamics of culture within medical teams. Let’s dive into the key takeaways from her thought-provoking discussion and explore the realm of emergency anthropology.

The Essence of Team Culture

The emergency department is the “watering hole” of the hospital. It acts as a crucible where individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to navigate the challenges of delivering healthcare. Through her experiences, Dr Purdy underscores the importance of comprehending team culture within this high-stakes environment.

Unlocking Relational Coordination Theory

What elements contribute to a successful day? While factors like roles, leadership, and communication are undoubtedly crucial, a deeper force underpins team culture. Dr Purdy introduces us to the Relational Coordination Theory, borrowed from the aviation industry, which unveils the secrets to effective teamwork and outcomes.

Its fundamental pillars are shared knowledge about roles, clear common goals, and mutual respect. This theory transcends the superficial and delves into the essence of effective teamwork. It’s about recognizing the unique contributions of every team member and fostering an environment of respect where each voice is valued.

Nurturing Team Culture

How can we transform an average day into an exceptional one? Simple yet impactful rituals foster familiarity, shared understanding, and mutual respect among team members. From shift huddles to clinical debriefing and simulations, these small moments hold immense power to shape a resilient team culture.

There is the potential for rituals like shift huddles to feel contrived or insincere. However, authenticity lies in the intention behind these moments. By focusing on the genuine purpose of these rituals and adapting them to suit the team’s dynamics, healthcare professionals can transcend the “cheese factor” and create meaningful connections.

Nurturing a Healthcare Ecosystem

Every team member plays a vital role in shaping the culture of their healthcare environment. As healthcare faces internal and external challenges, these small gestures can serve as the resilient threads that hold medical teams together. Healthcare professionals can forge a culture of collaboration, understanding, and empathy by committing to intentional efforts and small moments.

In a field where clinical demands often overshadow the human side of medicine, we need to redefine our approach. Let’s carry the inspiration to transform mere “hope” into purposeful action. Through the lens of emergency anthropology, we can collectively create healthcare environments where every shift matters, every voice is valued, and every patient receives the highest standard of care.



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