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When Doctors Make Mistakes: About Humanness And Perfection

The best part of doctoring is its humanness. Machines can’t do it — not even Apple products.

But that’s the worst part, too. Since humans practice medicine, there will be “medical errors.” And when doctors err, people — not spreadsheets or profits — are hurt. That’s the rub. Like any endeavor, the greater the reward the greater the risk.  Those cards were put on the table in medical school.

“Don’t want mistakes? Don’t do anything. Don’t make any decisions. Don’t do any procedures. Then, there will be no errors,”  the grey-haired, Swiss-born cardiac surgeon counseled me many years ago after an imperfect ablation.

The headline was about a doctor’s error. It was a doozy. But for me, the story belies the headline. A Boston Globe reporter called a surgeon’s public admission of performing a wrong operation ”an unusual display of openness.” I would call it something else: Breathtaking. Unprecedented. Courageous. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

In Front Of The Mirror Of Middle Age

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

An intermission, the curtain has closed on youth, but the next act awaits.

Caring for hiccups of the heart, like atrial fibrillation for example, often throws me in front of the mirror, of middle age that is, and sadly the reflections show imperfections. Since I am middle aged myself, there are my own experiences. But everyday at work, on my job site, I see the effects of these same middle-age experiences on the atrium of my patients. The results are often profound. So must be the pressures.

I read a passage in the wee hours of the quiet morning, in the dark, with a flickering book light. It grabbed me. It is from Elisabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Olive Kitteridge. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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