Being a good enough doctor – from BMJ 2020 & 1996

‘When students enter medical school or junior doctors start specialist training, they don’t aim to be a “good enough” doctor—they want to be the best. They hope to combine outstanding diagnostic acumen with being a caring and empathetic doctor, a brilliant teacher, and ideally a world changing researcher. Somewhere in that mix we also need time for relationships, for hobbies and sport, and to develop into happy people with rounded lives.’ Helen Salisbury

It’s rare that journals publish errors made by physicians.

When I read the article by Dr Salisbury, I remembered a BMJ article published in 1996 in the Christmas issue, To Err was Fatal, by Carlo Fonseka.

Fonseka – 1996 – To err was fatal

This article describes some errors that he did in 35 years of practice and the results of each incident. I am not certain what would have happened if he admitted some of them at that period of time it happened.

Prof Fonseka first submitted this article to a Sri Lankan journal and was rejected.

He was my first teacher in physiology at the Colombo Medical Faculty and then founding Dean at the University of Kelaniya, where I work.

As Dr Salisbury states, ‘Learning to admit those errors to patients, and to say sorry, is one of the hardest but most important steps to becoming a good enough doctor.’

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I hope more doctors will have the guts to do this. The people in authority, who may have associated themselves in similar incidents, look these reflective truths as opportunities to decrease errors and not penalise the people who are brave enough to tell the truth.

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