It is human to make mistakes. Without a doubt, I believe that statement to be true. However, it is very hard to accept that I personally will make mistakes as a physician. I certainly have made plenty of small, relatively inconsequential mistakes, so I try to tell myself that I won’t make the big mistakes. The mistakes that cost lives. I try to hold myself to this impossible standard, because it is incredibly scary to imagine harming patients because of a mistake that I made. It is hard to imagine how I would live with myself as a person, and as a clinician after a mistake like that happens.
This is why it has been so incredible to hear personal stories about mistakes that were made by good physicians, who had only the best intentions. It is one thing to hear that “it’s okay to make mistakes”, and totally another to hear it from physicians who have made mistakes, and that they have come out on the other side, with careers and psyches intact. I have realized that the most important thing is not to vow to never make mistakes, because that is unrealistic. The most important thing is what you do after you make the mistake. That moment defines the kind of person, and the kind of doctor you really are. Instead of vowing to never make mistakes, I vow to learn from those mistakes. I vow to be honest and forthcoming about these mistakes, so that patients, families, and caregivers can all begin the healing process. I vow to be an example to future clinicians, so that they see that it is okay to fail, and it is okay to mess up. After all, we all do it. The biggest failure of all would be to hold physicians to an impossible standard, and not be prepared to support them when they inevitably fall short.