“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – Anne of Green Gables

My program had a “diastole” session today where the interns got together and talked about how everything’s been going.  The hour focused on medical errors and how to deal with them.  The timing of this topic couldn’t have been more perfect – over the last 2 weeks on wards, I felt like I made hundreds of mistakes.  One mistake in particular affected me so much that I cried for almost an hour after I realized what I had done and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

I was preparing my patient’s discharges papers for the next day when I reviewed her medication list and realized I had accidentally ordered potassium as “daily” instead of “once.”  She had been getting this medication three days in a row by this point.  The guilt consumed me that night – What if her potassium level shoots up and kills her?  I knew that in her case, it was unlikely.  But what if it was another patient?  Sure, most patients will probably just get rid of any excess potassium.  But what if?  What if it a different medication whose consequences could be even worse?  It was in that moment when I truly realized I was no longer a medical student – my orders weren’t being cosigned. Once they’re signed, they are the real deal.

I brought this mistake up during our session, which was in part lead by our program director.  There was a brief moment before speaking where I thought, “Maybe this isn’t something I should admit in front of my program director.  What will she think of me?”  But I decided to do it anyway because the guilt was still with me – I felt like I needed to let people know about it.  Maybe I wasn’t the only intern in the room who didn’t realize I should be checking my patient’s medication list every day.  It just wasn’t something I had been taught to do while I was a medical student.  But I definitely know now!

It was comforting to be reminded by my program director that we’re human, and we make mistakes.  It’s downright terrifying that our mistakes could cost people’s lives, though.  But I’m starting to understand that I need to learn from my mistakes and move on because dwelling on them only makes me more stressed and nervous.  Positive thinking!

How do you deal with medical errors?

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