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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Development of an educational experience for medical students on coping with medical errors in residency and beyond

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Learning Objectives: To design an educational experience for senior medical students that addresses coping with medical errors.

Introduction: Navigating and coping with medical errors, which are inevitable realities of clinical practice, is an important physician competency. While medical students and residents recognize the importance of this topic, medical training programs vary substantially in their approach to teaching about medical error, and many offer no formal instruction in this topic.

Educational Objective: To design an educational experience for senior medical students that addresses coping with medical errors.

Curricular Design: We designed and implemented an educational experience within the established fourth-year capstone course at our institution, which is a required 2-week curriculum that prepares 4th year students for the transition to internship. After a brief lecture on medical errors, students participated in a standardized patient encounter in which they were required to disclose a medical error to the spouse of a critically ill patient. The error in the scenario was administration of an incorrect antibiotic leading to anaphylaxis requiring intubation. The standardized patients were instructed to portray strong emotions appropriate to the situation, including anger, shock, and grief, requiring students to navigate the error disclosure process in a realistic way. Afterwards, students participated in group debriefing focused on the challenges of disclosing medical errors and the impact of error on professional identity. Student feedback on the curriculum was obtained using a post-course survey.

Impact: This novel experience addresses an under-recognized but important topic in medical education. Among participating students, 94% agreed that medical error is an important topic, and 92% felt more comfortable discussing medical errors. Formal instruction in coping with medical errors may help mitigate the adverse psychological impact of making medical errors in clinical practice, and better prepare students for the transition to residency and beyond.

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