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Invited Critique
December 20, 2010

What Are Human Factors?Comment on “A Human Factors Curriculum for Surgical Clerkship Students“

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Center for Surgery and Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Arch Surg. 2010;145(12):1157. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2010.253

Cahan et al define human factors as “the nontechnical aspects of surgery,” which is a narrow interpretation of a broad, diverse, and well-established field. The International Ergonomics Association1 defines human factors as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system.” It “promotes a holistic approach,” encompassing “physical, cognitive, social, organizational, environmental, and other relevant factors.” Indeed, the surgeon's technical performance is a human factor—fallible because of our human susceptibility to error—and only one of many. Human factors engineering is a profession devoted to the design (and continual redesign) of systems and processes to protect us from our own inherently imperfect and inconsistent behavior. Aiming to make work environments more effective and efficient, it has been responsible for safety advancements in various high-risk domains for more than 50 years—the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society2 lists 23 technical groups, for fields including aerospace, surface transportation, and health care.

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