What Lessons Can Medicine Learn From Father Christmas?
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During the festive period, Father Christmas (also known as Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, and Kris Kringle) has the busiest 24 hours of his year delivering Christmas presents across the world. While this seems an insurmountable task, for him it’s all in a night’s work, facilitated by applying human factors (HF) in many areas.

However, as with healthcare, there is always room for reflection, learning, and improvement for the benefit of consumers.

In the Christmas issue of The BMJ, two doctors reflect on the many lessons that the medical profession can learn from Father Christmas. Father Christmas is unique in having 364 days to prepare for an important job, note surgeon Peter Brennan and radiologist Rachel Oeppen. Even so, they warn that staying awake for more than 18 hours leads to cognitive function deterioration.

As an effective team leader, Father Christmas ensures that his reindeers have rest and food while he delivers presents, but quite how he manages to function safely at all remains a mystery given the customary glass of wine, sherry, or spirits left out for him by many household.

They suggest leaving a glass of water to counter the physical and mental effects of fluid loss, particularly if Father Christmas is wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) this year. With such a busy workload, high expectations, and the fear of widespread disappointment in the event of an error, the pressure on Father Christmas to deliver a superlative service must be immense, say the authors.

However, they are in no doubt that he appreciates the importance of maintaining good situational awareness, effective team working, and forward planning, enabling him to think about the many 'what if?' scenarios that could occur on Christmas Eve. And when something doesn't seem quite right, Father Christmas will instinctively know to stop the sleigh if safe to do so, step back, and reassess the situation with the whole team.

It is also important to empower team members to be able to raise concerns without fear, they add, pointing out that terms such as "Santa's little helpers" could be regarded as derogatory and subordinate.

When their job has finally ended, it is likely that they will have a team debrief to confirm what went well, and what, if anything could be improved for next Christmas. The power of thanking all on "team Christmas" cannot be emphasized enough, they conclude.

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