It’s Ok To Make A Mistake

It’s a matter of life and death!

This is the healthcare mantra.  If we fuck up, someone could die.

That sounds helpful, doesn’t it?  I mean, if I constantly remind myself that what I do is important and that the stakes are incredibly high, I’ll perform better. 

Won’t I?

Well, let’s think about that.  How do you feel when you think about making a mistake at work?  I mean IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH!  When I think about the thousands of decisions I make every shift in that context, it’s terrifying.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really do my best work when I’m terrified.

In fact, the actions that I take that stem from a place of fear and terror are typically not very helpful at all. They tend to be impulsive and often the strength of those emotions will tune out the rational and thoughtful side of my personality.  Impulsive and irrational aren’t really the descriptive words I’m looking for when it comes to how I want to show up as a doctor.

Instead, I like to think about the emotions that would lead to how I do want to show up.  I’ve had a lot of time to play with this and I’ve found that I do my best doctoring when I’m feeling confident and capable.  I also know that those emotions don’t manifest themselves if all I’m doing is thinking about the terrible things that could happen if I make a mistake.

For that reason, I decided a while ago that I would no longer focus on what could go wrong when I’m caring for a patient.  I know that, if you work in emergency medicine, I’ve just blown your mind.  I mean the whole purpose of the emergency department is to look for all the worst things that could be going on.

There’s a difference, though, between looking for bad things that are already happening to your patient and working from a place of fear of all the ways in which you could fuck things up even more.

I know that when I show up at work, I am there to do the best possible job I can. Here’s a wonderful secret for you: That is enough.

But what if I miss something?

We all miss things sometimes.  I’m not perfect.  Thank goodness I work in a team of skilled professionals.  I have numerous people around me on every shift to help check my work and, when I’m operating from a place of confidence and competence rather than fear and terror, it’s much easier to accept feedback and suggestions from others without getting defensive. 

I’m a better doctor when I’m not afraid.  I also enjoy my experience at work when I’m not living in fear of what could go wrong. 

Next week we’ll talk more about how to respond if something in fact does go wrong.  In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to sign up for my free course How To Feel Better On Your Next Shift.  Then keep an eye on your email for upcoming opportunities to work together.