Adrienne Cullen Lecture

Adrienne Cullen Lecture

The Adrienne Cullen lecture on Open Disclosure After Serious Harm is held annually at UMC Utrecht. It was held for the first time in 2018 when Ms Adrienne Cullen and two of her senior physicians spoke openly about the medical error which left her with terminal cervical cancer. Ms Cullen died on December 31, 2018. This lecture is named in her honour so that as a hospital we learn from things that go wrong, patients feel better supported, and through openness prevent similar mistakes from being made again.

Photo: Adrienne Cullen, Source ANP

Photo: Adrienne Cullen, source ANP

Sixth Adrienne Cullen Lecture  

The Adrienne Cullen Lecture took place on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, from noon to 1 p.m. The theme was ‘Switching smoothly’: how do we avoid loose ends when transferring patients in the care network’.  

  •  You can review the Dutch lecture with Dutch subtitles via this link.   
  • You can review the lecture with an English speech interpreter via this link.



by Dorien Zwart, Professor of Family Medicine 

Title: From weak link to switching smoothly. 

Transferring from one organization or care provider to another is a well-known risky moment in the care trajectory of patients. Despite widely accepted professional guidelines on timely and accurate information transfer, technological tools to support the process and a fair amount of scientific studies on improvement interventions, it remains a weak link in care. How do we avoid loose ends when transferring patients in the care network so that continuity of care is not at risk?

Film (patient experience)  

This patient with multiple disorders undergoes spinal surgery at UMC Utrecht by a neurosurgeon. She is then admitted to a rehabilitation center. There she develops a large bulge in her abdomen, her "basket ball”. An ultrasound and CT scan show no cause. The neurosurgeon sends the patient back to her primary care physician. The family physician receives no transmission about the bulge and must put in a lot of effort  to take over care properly.

Panel discussion  

Led by Astrid Janssens, Professor of Patient and Public Participation, a discussion followed on the importance of proper handover in the healthcare network. Participants are:  

  •  Dorien Zwart, Professor of Family Medicine and Practicing Family Physician  
  •  Robert van den Broek, Internist-Elder Medicine  
  •  Romy Vijzelaar, Resident Hospital Medicine 
  •  Richard Bos, patient representative   

Fifth Adrienne Cullen lecture 

Practical information
The Adrienne Cullen lecture took place on Friday, March 10, 2023, from noon to 1 p.m.  

  • You can watch the Dutch lecture with Dutch subtitles via this link.  
  • You can watch the lecture with an English speech interpreter via this link

The theme of the lecture 

Openness when something goes wrong in healthcare: the patient and the young doctor 

The theme of the fifth Adrienne Cullen lecture was "The Patient and the Young Doctor”. What is the role of a young doctor when something goes wrong in healthcare and what does he or she need to deal with it properly? Patients in a university medical center, in addition to interacting with nurses, primarily interact with doctors in training to become specialists (aios). These young doctors are in training and are supervised in this by a medical specialist (supervisor). The young doctor is the link between the patient/close relatives and the medical specialist.  


Lecture by Shirin Bemelmans - Lalezari, cardiothoracic surgeon at the UMC Utrecht

Title: The patient and the young doctor
In her lecture, Shirin focused on the theme of vulnerability. How vulnerable you are as a patient, as a young doctor and as a supervisor. As a human being. What does a (possible) mistake do to you as a human being, what feelings can this evoke and how can you deal with them. She also mentioned the importance of learning to reflect in the training situation and as a supervisor to pay attention not only to the substantive aspect of the event, but also to the emotion of the doctor involved. This is also important to allow the role of the young doctor to be fulfilled as well as possible and thus to keep the relationship with the patient/close relatives as pure as possible.

The family of a patient talks about the situation with their son in which information was lost due to many transfers and different caregivers with negative consequences for the quality of care.  

Panel discussion
Astrid Janssens, professor of patient and public participation
Shirin Bemelmans – Lalezari, cardiothoracic surgeon
Fia Cialdella, physician-researcher
Filip de Vos, oncologist and educator  

The conversation was about how a young doctor deals with his role and his part in events that harm a patient. How do you make sure the patient has confidence (again) in what you do. What does the young doctor need to discuss mistakes or intense situations in a safe environment. How can the young doctor add value to communication with the patient and close relatives. How to create a safe learning environment in which the young doctor learns to reflect on his own actions.

Fourth Adrienne Cullen lecture 

The fourth Adrienne Cullen lecture took place on Friday, March 25, 2022.

  • This lecture was online in Dutch, you can view the lecture here.
  • The lecture could also be followed with live English translation and Dutch subtitles, you can view it here.

Hans Brölmann gave a lecture ‘Learning from incidents; pure culture!’ about the importance of open communication by healthcare professionals after incidents or calamities. An open and honest conversation with patients and their relatives helps both patient and healthcare professional to process the traumatic experience faster and better. Learning and improving also concerns (the communication about) the calamity investigation and its reporting. 

Hans Brölmann is co-founder of the foundation for Openness after Incidents and author of the manual: ‘Openness after incidents in healthcare’. He is a former gynecologist.

Experiences and panel discussion
Mr. Jeu Boelen told in a video about an incident in which his wife Mirjam died and the impact of the follow-up process, including the calamity investigation. He was in the studio to discuss this further during the panel discussion led by Hans van Delden. Other participants in the panel discussion were Hans Brölmann and Mariëlle Emmelot-Vonk, chair of the UMC Utrecht Emergency Committee.

Third Adrienne Cullen lecture

The online meeting took place on Friday April 16 2021. Click here to watch (the lecture is in Dutch). During this meeting we discussed the importance of patient and peer support after an incident, shared personal experiences and discussed what we have learned to improve in openness after an incident. A patient and a doctor shared their experiences with an incident in a film.

Mrs. Cordula Wagner from NIVEL, an independent research institute, shared the results from the project “When things go wrong, about the consequences of calamities for patients and relatives and consequences of disclosure”.

Second Adrienne Cullen lecture
The second Adrienne Cullen lecture was held at UMC Utrecht on Friday May 10, 2019. Keynote speaker was Andrew Foster, CEO of Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh (WWL) Foundation Trust, who shared his experience on reducing incidents in his organization as well as on improving the quality of care. Foster was brought up personally by Adrienne Cullen.

First Adrienne Cullen lecture
The first Adrienne Cullen lecture took place at UMC Utrecht on Friday April 13, 2018. This first lecture was about Adrienne Cullen herself who was a victim of a medical mistake. In 2011, the results of a tissue biopsy that showed that she had cervical cancer did not reach her treating physician at UMC Utrecht. Two years later, the mistake came to light, but by then the cancer had already metastasized, with fatal consequences for the patient. Adrienne Cullen passed away in December 2018.

Read here the investigation into the medical mistake and the reflection on the investigation by the Executive Board of UMC Utrecht. Both documents are in Dutch.

In order to guarantee the privacy of Mrs. Cullen and the healthcare professionals involved, her personal medical data and information that can be traced back to individuals have been made illegible.

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