We are human and we all make mistakes. It’s an inherent part of our nature. It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that our mistakes define us or determine our worth; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
As physicians, mistakes often serve as the uninvited guests in our otherwise meticulously planned professional lives. Yet, it is crucial to recognize that these errors are not stamps of incompetence but rather intricate threads woven into the fabric of our growth and wisdom.
In health care, there is a small margin for error, which can lead to devastating consequences. It is in this understanding where we can share in our humanity. While none of us wants to cause harm, we are faced with the reality of dealing with situations where not all is known and time hasn’t fully taken its course. Inherent to that is the possibility for mistakes to happen.
They are not necessarily a reflection of who we are as individuals or professionals but rather an opportunity for growth. They may provide us with key information as to the areas in which we need to improve and guide us to becoming better physicians and healers.
Mistakes present us with invaluable learning experiences, and it is in these moments that we have a choice. We can either allow ourselves to get stuck in the weight of our mistakes, burdened by self-doubt and regret, or we can embrace them as stepping stones on our path of improvement.
To learn from our mistakes, we must remain true to ourselves and stay committed to our journey of growth. It’s what we are all doing anyway, always growing and trying to get better. Approaching our patients (and ourselves) with a sense of humility keeps our minds open for this to happen. We’ll never know it all; we can just do the best we can at any given moment.
Obviously, we want to prevent mistakes from happening, and we can do that by keeping an open mind, asking for help from others, and recognizing the limitations of our intellect. We can prepare for all sorts of scenarios, but when the rubber meets the road, we don’t always know what we will encounter. With our best judgment, we set out on a path and need to be willing to course correct.
We can do that by taking an honest look at our thoughts and decisions and reevaluating the path we’re on. There are always ways to enhance our skills, knowledge, and our approach to care. With humility, open-mindedness, and a willingness to accept feedback we can make the necessary changes. Further, we can share with others, enabling them to learn from our experiences.
As physicians, we serve others, and to do so in the best capacity, we can approach our mistakes not with fear and self-doubt but with curiosity and the chance to do it differently next time. Each mistake is an opportunity to refine our skills, deepen our understanding, and enhance the world around us through our commitment to growth and improvement.
As we navigate the challenges of our profession, let us embrace our mistakes with grace and gratitude. Let us learn from them, integrate the lessons into our practice, and move ahead with renewed determination and wisdom. This is how we create a culture that fosters resilience, learning, and excellence.
Josh Schwarzbaum is an emergency physician.