If you are a doctor (or med student/health professional) and you are human, you’ve probably made a medical mistake. You’ve probably not received emotional support for the mistake. Maybe you’ve never told anyone about a mistake that still haunts you today.
The truth is most all physicians have admitted to medical mistakes sometime in their careers. Depending on the patient outcome, many doctors carry the distress of medical errors for months, years, even a lifetime. Some may even develop PTSD.
If you’ve experienced anxiety, depression, guilt, loss of confidence, or were haunted by intrusive thoughts in the aftermath of a medical error, you are normal. In fact, you’ve had second victim syndrome—a real condition that describes the psychological trauma a physician (or health professional) experiences as a result of an error.
I just got off the phone after speaking with a highly-skilled specialist suffering in isolation with grief, shame, and guilt after a recent medical mistake. During our hour long conversation she recalled another mistake from several years prior. I then shared de-identified case studies of other physicians I know (including my own) as examples of what not to do.
Top 3 ways NOT to respond to a medical error:
1) Do not die by suicide. I know of several physicians who have taken their own lives in the aftermath of making even a minor medical mistake. Do not kill yourself. Please. Call someone. Call me.
2) Do not respond with self-abuse. Do not take the patient’s chart home to punish yourself by obsessing on your mistake over and over again for years to remind yourself that you are not as smart as you think you are (like one doctor I know who did this). Do not allow a mistake to overshadow your years of excellent care.
3) Do not wait decades to share your trauma. One physician broke down in tears in front of me about a medical error she experienced 30 years ago. She then apologized for crying. Then she told me she had not been able to cry in 10 years!
After a decade helping doctors heal from suicidal thoughts, self-abuse, and isolation from recent and remote medical mistakes, I’ve discovered what actually works. Read more ›