September 20, 2014

Making Mistakes As a Doctor


I want to share with you a very powerful TED talk entitled, “Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that?” In this 19-minute video, Canadian ER physician Dr. Brian Goldman talks about the agony of his own mistakes and offers a perspective on dealing with this inevitable, yet incredibly challenging part of being a doctor.

One of my awesome clients sent me this TED talk a few weeks ago. I watched the talk, and I must confess, it choked me up at the end. There is a lot of pain around mistakes we make as physicians. We never want patients to suffer because of us. We feel the pain of our disappointment in ourselves. We may feel ashamed and want to hide from the truth. Excellent doctors leave medicine because of the fear of making mistakes. Others leave because of a mistake they cannot accept.

My client graciously agreed to write her own response to this TED Talk. It’s my pleasure to share her words of wisdom with you.

Listening to this TED Talk by Canadian ER physician, Dr. Brian Goldman should be a prerequisite for medical school graduation. Many of us physicians have a perfectionistic personality and were good students. I loved being a student and even taking tests. I always made A’s and a rare B.  When I would miss 1 or 2 questions on a test, it was no big deal because I would still get a good score overall. But, now that I am in the real world practicing medicine, missing “one question” can have grave implications. In my (former) mind, missing one question in medicine didn’t equate to a 98%, but to a failure. I have experienced the unhealthy shame that follows mistakes. “Why did I even go into medicine? . . . I’m not cut out to have such tremendous responsibility.” I have even considered leaving the field of medicine to escape my future mistakes. However, when I watched this talk, it helped me to realize that I am not alone. And, if you remove all of the people that make mistakes from medicine, you will be left with no one to care for these patients that so greatly need our help. So, I made a resolve. If I am to continue to be a physician, I must learn to deal with my mistakes in a healthy way. I must acknowledge them, feel a healthy regret, learn something from it and then, forgive myself. Goldman doesn’t speak about forgiveness specifically in his talk – but I think this is an incredibly important part of the process. I think it is necessary to allow myself to feel bad for the mistakes I make – but in a healthy, constructive way. If I didn’t feel any remorse, I would not be a good physician. I never want to become nonchalant about my mistakes.  I also must speak openly to others so they can learn from my mistakes and know that they are not alone. I have also found it to be helpful to recognize all of the good that I have done and give myself credit for that instead of constantly obsessing over my mistakes. For those of you struggling with this same issue, I hope that you find this talk as helpful as I did.

To listen to this TED talk, click here.