Disease, Doctor-Patient Communication, Health Policy, Healthcare Reform

Doctors are humans too

In binge watching the newest medical show “The Resident” this past weekend, the show made me consider the role of medical error and transparency. The show portrays an arrogant surgeon with a secret tremor unwilling to give up his career despite his inability to perform successful surgeries. While the story plot line is dramatized and designed to pull viewers in for higher ratings, it highlights the importance of medical error and transparency. According to The BMJ, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Examples of medical error include medication errors (wrong dose, wrong drug) and hospital infections. Medical errors are challenging to comprehend since healthcare providers are only human and they are bound to make mistake just like the rest of us. The amount of stress and pressure these providers face all while working at all hours undoubtedly will result in mistakes. However, their mistakes have much more severe consequences. The show discusses transparency as a way to address the stigma surrounding medical error and by having more transparency could result in lower rates of medical error. An interesting fact to note is that these are errors are not recognized as cause of death on death certificates. To me, this further stigmatizes the errors and places blame on the healthcare provider and doesn’t change the narrative that providers are human and errors will happen. We treat these healthcare providers as superhuman but we need to remember that they are just like us and as a humans we make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them.




  • Crystal

    Hannah, thank you so much for your post. As a nurse, I definitely recognize the pressure that 1 mistake could result in someone’s death. I appreciate this effort for transparency. When I worked in a hospital, we were told we couldn’t mention any other stressful situation or event in our department to patients that weren’t involved…even if it was in a way that was compliant with privacy laws. We were not to outwardly acknowledge stress in any way. Additionally, I was encouraged to report errors to other staff members before informing the patient. As long as errors didn’t negatively affect the patient (other than increased time from their day), we were encouraged not to mention it. I think that this lack of transparency is not only dangerous, but it likely exacerbates distrust in our healthcare system.

    I will never forget that in nursing school we were taught the number of deaths due to medical errors would be the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing and killing all of its passengers each day. When we have humans practicing healthcare, it will inevitably lead to mistakes because we are fallible. However, I don’t think that anyone wants to be cared for by an infallible robot. We need to be able to be both safe and human.

  • Casey

    The issues you rose are thoroughly overlooked and need attention! Everyone makes mistakes and it’s difficult working in an environment where you feel pressured to perform perfectly. From my own experience as a healthcare professional and student in general, I find that there is a lack of acknowledgement of human errors as normal behavior. From an early age, students hide exam papers and assignments that display their errors. I think that in order to destigmatize error in the medical field we should start by helping children to acknowledge their academic mistakes in an encouraging way. Use them as learning opportunities. Hopefully, children could carry practices like these, which promote vulnerability and openness, with them into adulthood.