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Textbook Malpractice: A Med Student’s Personal Perspective On Care


Medical mistakes can happen to anyone – even the families of doctors. One young doctor observed numerous errors while her mother struggled with terminal cancer. Those experiences shaped her perspectives on patient safety, perspectives that she decided to share in the hopes of improving how hospitals respond to similar mistakes.

This young doctor said that “harm is rarely caused by actual negligence. The vast majority of cases involve a lot of people doing fairly reasonable things, and somehow something just falls through the cracks.” In reality, however, the difference between the consequences of a reasonable mistake and medical malpractice seems insignificant.

For example, the doctor’s mother fell out of her hospital bed during the night. Although the bed should have had an alarm to call a nurse for an immediate response, someone had unplugged the alarm and it did not go off. The doctor also observed several medication mistakes. In one instance, a stand-in doctor administered a dangerous overdose because he didn’t compare the existing dose with the mother’s nutrition record.

These experiences all translated to a fascinating account of this young doctor’s perspective on the importance of patient safety. Perhaps if more doctors experienced the frequency and consequences of these kinds of medical mistakes in a personal context, we could make more progress on preventing them. In the meantime, hopefully this physician’s approach to medical errors will receive more media attention and inspire other young professionals to watch vigilantly for similar problems.

Source: ProPublica, “What a New Doctor Learned About Medical Mistakes From Her Mom’s Death,” Marshall Allen, Jan. 9, 2013

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