“I Made A Critical Clinical Mistake”

Coaching Tips with Christina A. Arnold, MD 

“I made a critical clinical mistake” is one of the more painful client concerns.

Medicine teaches us that we have to be perfect or else patients will die, and we will lose our livelihood, but perfection is an impossible standard for humans.

Pathology is hard. Every human makes mistakes. I have made mistakes, and you will too. Realizing we are human is the hardest part of our job. Each mistake is a fellowship in itself and ultimately makes us better doctors as we learn how to perfect our practice to serve our patients best if we allow ourselves the grace to learn.

After my first mistake, I looked at all my GI biopsies at every level at 40X because I had a paralyzing fear that I would make another critical mistake. Let me tell you that only set me up to make more mistakes because it’s just not practical to be fully focused while also thinking, “I am a terrible doctor.”

Instead, try adopting the thought, “I am doing the best I can.” Scrutinize the error and look for strategies that will prevent the error in the future.

I have learned to trust myself to know when to hold a case to revisit on fresh eyes the next day, show a colleague, and send out to an expert. If there are any unusual aspects to the case, I have a low threshold to obtain deeper sections and confirmatory stains, write a careful note, and contact the clinician. I do not grade dysplasia after 4 pm.

What can you learn? How can this event make you a better physician so you can better serve your future patients? To be most open to learning and best prevent future mistakes, start by granting yourself compassion and grace.

You are human.

You are doing the best you can.

All thoughts are available to you.

Pick the thoughts that serve you.

Christina A. Arnold, MD is a GI pathologist and professional career coach. Follow her podcast at https://yourpathinfocus.podbean.com/ and reach her at YourPathInFocus.com.