Are You Afraid Of Being Wrong?

Mon, 05/14/2012 - 6:21am

Richard Smith, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a thoughtful essay offering guidance for new medical students. Full text here. Although it was published in 2003, someone just brought it to my attention via Twitter. 

Dr. Smith lists many pearls of wisdom in a scholarly and lightly humorous way. I disagree with only one of his statements:

“Do not be afraid to be wrong.”

It is not that this is bad advice. To me, a timid doctor is prone to failure. Sometimes you have to take your best shot based on the information at hand. The problem is that in today’s medical world, we are expected to be perfect. If you make a wrong diagnosis and the patient suffers a poor outcome, you have a good chance of being sued and a better chance of experiencing an inquisition by emissaries from the quality improvement and/or risk management departments, AKA the “thought police.”

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