Kathleen M. Sutcliffe Ph.D.

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
Johns Hopkins University
Email: ksutcliffe@jhu.edu Discipline: Management and Organizations

Investigator Award
Medicalizing Patient Safety
Award Year: 2009 Since publication of the Institute of Medicine's landmark 1999 report To Err is Human, patient safety has become the shibboleth for health care providers nationwide. Yet, patient safety today means something much different, and much less radical, than it did 20 years ago, when the movement's pioneers focused on cross-disciplinary efforts to reduce health care hazards and harms. Robert L. Wears, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center, and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Ph.D., Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, are examining the subtle issues around how patient safety has been transformed, and, in essence, become medicalized, controlled by health care organizations and professionals in ways that ensure their continued authority over care processes. Part of the study, Medicalizing Patient Safety, will explore changes in the numbers and proportions of prominently involved clinicians and safety scientists and in patient safety research content and methodologies. The researchers believe that the policy implications from this project will fall into two broad areas: building the human capital to support collaborations between clinical and safety scientists, and expanding the reach and aims of safety research and implementation activities. Findings will identify options for advancing progress in patient safety and for investing in promising avenues of research.


Kathleen M. Sutcliffe is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at The Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School and Professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. She received a B.A. degree from the University of Michigan, a B.S. degree from the University of Alaska, a M.S. from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in management from the University of Texas at Austin. Before studying for her doctoral degree she lived and worked in urban and rural Alaska (directing a health program for the State of Alaska and as health director for the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association, one of the Alaska Native Health Corporations headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska). For the past decade her research has been aimed at understanding how organizations and their members cope with uncertainty and unexpected events, and how complex organizations can be designed to be more reliable and resilient. She is currently investigating these issues in wildland firefighting, healthcare, and other high-hazard industries. Her research has appeared in numerous scholarly journals (e.g., Academic Medicine, Medical Care, Academy of Management Journal, Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, etc.). Two books include: Medical Error: What Do We Know? What Do We Do? (co-authored with Marilynn Rosenthal, Jossey-Bass, 2002); Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty 2nd ed. (co-authored with Karl E. Weick, Jossey-Bass, 2007).