Making Mistakes

This is a letter to young physicians, but it could easily be a letter to anyone who is a young practitioner in any profession or any area of endeavor.

You are going to make mistakes in your career.

Moreover, you’re going to make mistakes that are unequivocally your fault that cannot be attributed to anyone but you.

You’re even going to make the same mistake two or three times in a row on the same client.

And there will be no doubt about it. There will be no out pitch. There will be no life preserver.

If you want to survive, you are going to have to accept that and get back up on your horse to ride again.

It’s not going to do any good to mope around and feel sorry for yourself.

People when examining your mistakes will ask how you could have ever made such a glaring error.

You may ask yourself the same question many times.

How could I possibly have committed such a boneheaded mistake?

I am going to answer that question obliquely.

When I was in my third year in medical school, I took a rotation in radiology.

One day, the professor put slides up on the projector screen. His purpose was to quiz us as to what we were seeing.

After many slides, he placed a chest x-ray on the screen and asked us what was going on.

Well, it was impossible to miss this one.

There was a giant tennis ball sized mass in the right middle lobe of the lung.

Even if you never attended medical school, you wouldn’t miss this lesion.

Several students called out the correct answer. They said that there was a mass in the right side of the chest.

We students were in unanimous agreement.

After the conversation died down, the professor looked at us, and said: “That’s very good. That is correct. You were very astute in picking that up, much more astute than I was when it came over my desk. This was a lesion that I missed.”

We students were astounded.

The professor continued: “That’s right. This was an actual x-ray that came over my desk one day, and I missed it.”

How could that be, we were wondering. It would be impossible to miss this.

But we had to take the professor at his word. He stated clearly that he missed it.

So, how did he mIss it?

For the same reason that I have missed obvious things in my career.

For the same reason that you will miss obvious things in your career.

For the same reason that Arnold Palmer missed ten inch putts. For the same reason that Bill Buckner let an easy ground ball go through his legs during the World Series.

You are a human being, and your brain is not perfect.

Your brain is constantly bombarded and therefore affected by internal thoughts, external stressors, time constraints, imperfect vantage point, and your mental and physical health.

There is nothing you can do about that.

You can only try to lead the most stress free life that you possibly can while having a good attitude.

But even with that, you are still going to miss things.

You’re going to miss things that are entirely your fault and no one else’s.

This doesn’t make you a bad doctor or any other kind of practitioner.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to pass instant judgment on people and their failings.

How many of you have been in a car accident that has been your fault?

I suspect many of you have.

Are you a bad driver then?

Of course not. You simply made an error in judgment.

Likewise with the doctor.

Likewise with you.


Archer Crosley

Copyright 2023 Archer Crosley All Rights Reserved