THE director of Canberra Hospital's Intensive Care Unit, Imogen Mitchell, is travelling to the United States after winning a prestigious Harkness Fellowship.
The highly contested scholarship is not awarded in years when the applicants are deemed unworthy and Associate Professor Mitchell was chosen from a field of more than 100.
The 46-year-old will spend 12 months conducting original research and working with leading US health policy experts from August.
''The project I applied to do is to understand why it was that healthcare institutions do not implement safety initiatives,'' Dr Mitchell said.
''We are well aware of initiatives that will be helpful to patients but for some reason healthcare institutions don't implement them.''
Dr Mitchell said surgery checklists and scrubbing up before inserting a central line decreased the chance of infection and improved patient safety but the reason some hospitals were less compliant in following safety protocols was still a mystery.
''Is it the doctors? Is it the nurses? Is it inadequate leadership? In the end it's probably multi-factorial - but in knowing what makes a good healthcare and bad healthcare organisation in terms of patient safety initiatives, we can make changes.''
Director-general of the ACT Health Directorate Dr Peggy Brown said Dr Mitchell was a worthy recipient of the award.
''She relocated to the ACT and took up the role of director of intensive care in 1999 and in more recent times has played a significant role in developing patient safety processes,'' Dr Brown said.
Dr Mitchell, who also lectures at the Australian National University, is hoping to do some teaching in the US.
''I'm still undecided where I'll be going, but it may well be Boston and [I] will probably link that up to an academic institution like Harvard Medical School so I can continue with my teaching.''