Dr Mudra Shah – making mistakes in medicine

Dr Mudra Shah
Basic Paediatric Trainee
PCH representative on PMCWA JMO Forum
Ball co-ordinator for PCH JMO Society

My name is Mudra and I am a junior doctor, and a human being. Most people (including me) often forget the latter. 

I am writing to tell you that at the beginning of my internship, I made a mistake. Spoiler alert, the patient lived. 

The incident was an unwell patient who presented to the emergency department and due to multiple reasons, including my personal self-doubt, there was a delay in commencing treatment. I remember thinking, "this patient doesn’t look great," however being a fresh doctor, I didn’t trust my instinct and instead, continued the treatment under senior guidance.

At the time, I was terrified of being fired, reported to AHPRA or even worse – being publicly humiliated for my lack of ‘basic’ knowledge (I had a Hermione moment!). However, what followed was a life-changing experience for me. I debriefed with a consultant on the incident and together we discussed the theoretical knowledge along with strategies on improving patient care in the future. There was no blame implied (on anyone) in the entire conversation and the focus was on prevention and learning. 

The learning experience from my story was firstly, always talk to someone when you have a bad experience at work. Talk to your friends/family/colleagues and debrief, it makes a difference. Secondly, all mistakes are learning points. It is highly unlikely that you alone are responsible for the deterioration of one patient so instead of blaming yourself, think critically about what you learnt from the case- even if it’s the fact that you are also human, and can make mistakes.  

This incident was not my first mistake, and definitely will not be my last - and that’s okay. Our medical system has in-built checks to catch mistakes and fix them before they harm a patient and as a result, no individual can and shouldn’t be blamed. As a fraternity, I think we need to get better at talking about our mistakes and our lessons learnt, so we can all grow!

Dr Mudra Shah is Basic Paediatric Trainee, currently working at the Perth Children's Hospital. She is a recent, proud graduate from the University of Western Australia and has previously worked in the North Metropolitan Health Service. She is the current hospital representative on the PMCWA JMO Forum and the ball co-ordinator for the PCH JMO Society. Her passions include mental health advocacy, medical education and junior doctor wellbeing. In her spare time, Mudra dabbles in experimental cooking and questionable art projects.