Being Human 2

Doctors are usually viewed as infallible beings… which is patently false.

Having gone through the majority of our lives striving to be the best and continually trying to be correct and trying our hardest to make no mistakes… it hits us even harder when we are incorrect or make a mistake.

We are only human. However, we forget this many more times than we remember.

During the course of your residency and your career you will make mistakes. For many, this simple truth is a tough pill to swallow. I struggled with this truth a little during my residency, and I saw my junior residents struggle with this as well. For this reason, I had a mantra which I would remind my junior residents of whenever they made a mistake.

To many this mantra may be too direct, and to those outside of medicine, they may think I am taking the event of making a mistake too lightly.

Trust me, I am not. Every mistake a doctor makes he/she will remember and carry with them forever. This is simply my method to help young doctors be gracious for the experience and learn from their mistake as quickly as possible.

Now then, ask yourself (or whoever) this:

Did you:

  1. Kill the patient?
  2. Hurt the patient?
  3. Know what you did wrong?

That’s it. It seems simple, but it’s really not. It is a tremendous amount of responsibility to take care of patients, especially as an intern or junior resident, and I would venture to say very few are prepared to handle their first mistake.

The usual string of answers is: No. No. Yes.

Good. Now take that knowledge you’ve just gained and carry it with you from now until forever, and teach that tidbit to someone else so they can learn from your experience.

However, sometimes a young doctor will say “Yes” to the first question.

In which case the follow-up question is, oh really? You literally, with your own bare hands, killed the patient in cold blood? This leads to introspection, that no, the patient passed away because of a multitude of other factors out of their control. We tend to forget about these factors outside of our control, and only internalize the event we could control which we believe to have resulted in the patient’s death. This question is designed to remind the young doctor of that fact. Then move on to #2 and #3 with this new introspection.

Other times, the answer string will be No and then Yes. In which case the follow-up question is, oh really? You literally, with your own bare hands, broke the patient’s arm? Once again, this leads to a similar introspection that I just discussed above, and aims to deescalate the event.

Both of these questions are designed to channel the energy of the conversation into the most important part… the experience and the learning.

Remember, Medicine is both an art and a science and it’s the practice of medicine… which is continually evolving. Some may argue that medicine is more of an art than a science even. The way you practice will be different from your forefathers and different from those who come after you. Your job is to do the best you have with the knowledge of your generation and pass it on to the next generation so they can do an even better job.


You are only human. Don’t forget it.

Medicine is both an art and a science, continually evolving. Be a part of its evolution.


Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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