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Coping with Mistakes as a Medical Professional

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First, do no harm – the words of the Hippocratic oath are forever embedded in the memory of every person who spends even a moment in the medical profession. While our time is spent working to make the best decisions possible for the patients that have entrusted you with their care or the care of their loved ones, at the end of the day, we are all simply human. Mistakes will be made and whether they are the result of a judgment error, lack of information, or simply from distraction and being overworked, they can be detrimental and consuming.

While small mistakes are often corrected with a simple apology and treatment change, sometimes errors can cause permanent harm. It can often be difficult to overcome the remorse and guilt that affects you following a treatment diagnostic error with a patient. When facing a serious misstep that has had significant consequences for a patient, you may find yourself preoccupied with what you may have done differently or where your attempt to treat went wrong. While these thoughts are only natural, there are some things that you can do to help get past the mistake and move forward.

Replay the Scenario in your head.

This can be helpful to an extent. By determining where the situation went poorly and understanding why and how it happened, you will be able to come to terms and better work through your feelings.

Talk to someone. 

Talk to a trusted colleague in the field and use them as a sounding board to talk through your emotions and initial reactions. They may have ideas that will help you to process your feelings and work out how you can prevent future errors from happening again. If nothing else, they can lend an understanding ear and give you some reassurance.

Learn from it. 

Use the situation as a learning experience to improve yourself in your profession. Though you may not be able to correct your mistake, seeking out the root of your error and learning what steps or training is necessary to avoid repeating it will help you to grow as a medical professional.

Take a break. 

Take some time off if you are terribly overwhelmed. The distraction and frustration can sometimes make it difficult to perform your duties to the best of your ability. By walking away for a bit to recharge and clear your head, often you can come to terms with a difficult scenario.

Ask for help. 

Seek professional counseling if you are unable to cope with your emotions or you have signs of depression that do not pass within a reasonable amount of time. A counselor will be able to assist you in facing your difficulties head on and will help get you on the path to being mentally healthy.

It may take some time to work through the many feelings that can follow a medical error, especially a major one. Do not be afraid to seek help if you are having difficulty coping with your error. Most importantly, be sure to give yourself the grace that you need as a human and find a moment within the situation that you can use to learn and better yourself.


All mistakes can be a learning experience, along with career changes and transitions. Looking for a career change? Check out our latest healthcare jobs right here.

Contributor Kimberly Anders

As the Division Director of pharmacy, allied and healthcare IT recruitment for Soliant, Kimberly brings over 14 years of success in all aspects of the staffing industry to lead operations for a highly recognized and respected brand in pharmacy recruitment. Upon walking into a temporary staffing office, to find part-time work around a college schedule, Kimberly was fixated on developing a career in the recruiting industry. The following 20 years in the profession have provided her the perfect livelihood, a platform to guide, educate and coach talented individuals to fulfilling new jobs. Kimberly is experienced working with pharmacies and pharmacy professionals in large health systems, rural inpatient hospitals, home infusion, ambulatory care, long term care, mail order, retail, PBM and specialty settings across the country. Make sure to check out the rest of her blogs!