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Physicians make mistakes—how can we support them?

Feb 24, 2022

Vulnerability. What a foreign and dangerous concept in medical culture!

In the CBC Radio show White Coat, Black Art, Dr. Brian Goldman shocked the world by disclosing how he killed a patient via clinical error. He shared that the toughest thing in a physician’s life is to stand faulty or guilty in front of their peers.

In the name of professionalism, we become experts in hiding our feelings, inner voices, issues, and problems.

This kind of toxic, perfectionistic, and hostile shaming culture pervades clinical settings and academia alike. By covering up our mistakes, we inadvertently create more problems—which only lead to worse clinical outcomes, College complaints, or even lawsuits.

I know we’re still very far away from rewriting medical culture as a whole.

How to address clinical error by fostering vulnerability

As leaders within our own teams, we can create and foster a culture of vulnerability by:

  • Not having to always be right
  • Admitting your limits of knowledge or competency
  • Confessing and owning up to your fault(s)
  • Sharing your inner struggles and uncertainties
  • Giving your teammates the benefit of the doubt when they mess up
  • Being gracious and sensitive to others’ weaknesses and shortcomings