Making Mistakes

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

I walked into the room with my stethoscope around my neck, still running through everything I needed to go over with this patient before I presented them to the attending physician. I wanted it to be perfect, to make sure there is nothing I left out, nothing I could be criticized for. I collected the information systematically, went through my physical exam, and walked out ready to present the case. As we rounded, we went through everyone’s patients one by one and finally it was my turn. I sweat through my scrubs, and I felt my note sheet dampen in my hands. Why am I still so nervous? I thought to myself. Oh, that’s right—it’s because if I messed this up, I know I’ll replay the entire discussion in my head ad nauseum and feel embarrassed all over again and not be able to sleep at night.

Chronicles of a Med Student

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The last part may have been a slight exaggeration, but this happens to medical students (and sometimes residents) a lot! I was routinely afraid of being called out in front of everyone and having my mistakes open for discussion. Who wants to have that happen? It’s definitely not something that happens in other professions—medicine is unique in that it forces you to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. When I was in the 5th grade, I was voted “most likely to not say a word”. I was a very shy person and still am to some extent. Imagine my horror when I realized that I would be put on the spot every day! I used to be able to feel my heart race right before it was my turn to present, but eventually as I grew to know how hospitals and physicians worked, it became easier.

A huge part of being in medicine is learning to be adaptable and as I said before, being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am very “type A”, as are many people that go into the profession, so being prepared for anything and everything at any time was definitely not in my comfort zone. But I’ve learned to embrace this and have seen myself change for the better because of it. It saves me a lot of anxiety to just accept whatever happens for better or worse, while still knowing that I’ve tried my best in any situation, whether being put on the spot by my attending physician or helping save a patient’s life. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but my advice would be to think of the “WTWTCH” situation, or the “What’s The Worst That Could Happen?” If the answer to that is anything besides compromising anyone’s safety, don’t sweat it. Called out on morning rounds for not coming up with the correct answer? Don’t sweat it—just look it up. No one can expect you to know everything. To answer the WTWTCH question, you’ll look stupid for a day but then again, who hasn’t? Everyone will get over it in five minutes.  r you learn to roll with it, the sooner you’ll turn your focus to more important things. Getting called out and feeling uncomfortable is a big part of life and of medicine! I’m thankful for understanding attending physicians who know I’m learning and help me along the way.

Being wrong is not something that comes naturally to most medical students. For most our lives, we have been used to being right and knowing it all, so the first time we don’t know something, it makes us feel uncomfortable. The important thing to note is that being wrong and making mistakes is a part of growing as a medical student and budding physician. Knowing what you don’t know is actually helpful! I’ve become a lot more flexible and open to criticism since starting my rotations. I still break a sweat if I think I don’t know something, but now I am more comfortable with accepting that that is part of the journey. In fact, third year rotations are the perfect time to make mistakes. No one will fault you because you have the safety net of a physician behind you, but at the same time you get to learn so much. Make mistakes, learn to be comfortable with new situations, and most importantly enjoy the ride!