The 5 most crucial mistakes to learn from as a new doctor.

“ You make mistakes but mistakes don’t make you”
Maxwell Maltz M.D., F.I.C.S.

We all make mistakes, little ones and big ones.

The most important thing to remember is that we all learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are what give us the experiential knowledge to gain confidence and excel in our profession.

The main catch to this wisdom is, as a doctor, mistakes are generally frowned upon.

There is a difference between clinical mistakes and life mistakes. Clinical mistakes are perceived to have higher consequences but are still essential for learning. That is why you start out working on cadavers and models. Learning from clinical mistakes is crucial. It is part of the education process and often done in a controlled and supervised environment.

Once you begin to practice, you loose that control and the supervision. Learning from life mistakes tend to come secondary and haphazardly as a result. Something you are not taught in school or internship.

If you learn to embrace and learn from mistakes while practicing medicine then you can see past the false ego. The ego created as part of gaining the title of “Doctor” and let life become you new preceptor.

Your Goal: Be aware of your mistakes but don’t identify with them.

Don’t blame yourself for the mistakes you made yesterday or the ones you are sure to make tomorrow.

Learn from them and create the habits that will ensure you success in medicine and in your life.

Mistake # 1
Your Patients: 
Either become too attached or too detached to patients.

The way you build a relationship with your patients can determine whether they are your greatest renewable energy resource or your greatest energy drain.

Too Attached: It is very easy to form bonds with your patients over time and use them as substitutes for a personal life.

Too Detached: Practicing medicine is challenging and requires difficult decisions in the face of great suffering. It is easy to become detached from your own emotions to shield yourself from the pain. I have seen this lead to a defensive behavior that causes you to judge your patients (and the entire practice of medicine) harshly. This becomes a very toxic habit.

Successful outcomes start with successful listening and skillfully going after the story of the patient. Your clinical decision-making has to be impartial and unemotional to be accurate.

Do this instead: Learn to let your empathy come through for every patient without judgment. This is the most important of habits to form. Watch how your entire support staff takes your lead and treats patients accordingly.

Keep your patient relationships separate from your personal relationships. Yes, it requires you following step #3, but it will keep you balanced and is crucial to building and maintaining your reputation over time.

  • Treat all patients the same
  • Establish clear patient, financial, and dispensing policies and enforce them
  • Avoid personal relationships with patients outside of office
  • Choose your trusted peers to see your best friends and family members

Mistake # 2
Your Money: 
Increase personal expenses too fast and by too much.

You are under massive financial pressure. Waiting for the payout for all your hard work. Anxious to get ahead of the giant loans you likely took on. You are finally getting the salary you deserve.

It is easy to go spend crazy after being so frugal for so long. This is called an overcorrection.

Do this instead: Slow and steady wins the race. Spend less than you earn.

  • If you are a new grad you likely have plenty of loans to deal with. Avoid taking on more bank loans if possible.
  • Keep your personal expenses low for at least the first 24-36 months.
  • Keep it simple as long as you can, don’t chase the shiny new toy, EHR, service or technology.
  • Keep an eye on your money. What you measure grows.

Mistake # 3
Your Relationships: Don’t take time for self and personal relationships.

You have worked hard and sacrificed a lot in the way of personal time and personal relationships during your training. You may have a lot of confidence that you overcame the challenges of medical school and residency. There are more challenges to come. You have had in place a support system in the way of your spouse, your family, your faculty, and friends rooting you on.

Now is the time to reflect on the hard work you’ve done the and relationships that have been neglected. Most importantly the relationship with your self. You are a person first and a Doctor second.

Do this instead: Take the time to show appreciation to everyone who has supported you by giving a bit of your most precious resource. Time. Develop a habit early on to make time for friends and family as part of your schedule.
Here are 50 ways to show gratitude to the people in your life (including yourself)

  • Show gratitude to People who love you (10)
  • Show Gratitude to People who challenge you (10)
  • Show Gratitude to People Who Serve You (10)
  • Show Gratitude to People Who Work with You (10)
  • Show Gratitude for Yourself (10)

Mistake # 4
Your Time: 
Trying to do everything yourself.

You have been pushed past your limits of productivity and found new ways to function on limited sleep and limited time. This is a common part of your training and a much-argued part as modern medicine evolves.

Medicine is a high volume business and all your hear is that there is a shortage of doctors. There are lots of messages telling you that you must maintain your current pace to be successful in practice. Many doctors feel the urge to speed up.

Do this instead: Slow Down. Embrace your leadership role and learn to delegate. In training, you had interns and residents assigned to you to help pull the load. If you are in private practice find a business manager, midlevel, or consultant to help you focus on strategic direction and patient care.

Take the time to find the right people to help you and then give them the freedom and guidance to succeed.

Communicate expectations to the leads and support them. Make sure your leads understand their roles and responsibilities. Some of the most critical roles they must assume are:

  • Establish clear work schedules
  • Tracking and monitor your hours worked
  • Design a clear and fair employee handbook (for example missed work policy)
  • Administering performance-correction notes
  • Monitoring performance and give performance reviews

Mistake # 5
Your Health: 
Not being aware of your limits.

You have earned many badges of honor in your ability to function on little sleep and maintain some sense of sanity on caffeine alone. You are ready to but into high gear and go to work. Now it is about the long haul. Your patients, family, and friends need you to be around for a long time.

Do this instead: Put a plan in place for your own physical, mental and emotional health. Better yet find a trusted professional to put you on a plan. Psychologists, Nutritionists, and Physical Trainers are abundant resources to help you focus on what you do best and stay healthy and in balance.

  • Learn to meditate
  • Find professionals to help you in the long term (Psychologists, Nutritionists, and Physical Trainers)
  • Don’t forget the basics (Water and Rest)
  • Lead by example. Be a model of the health practices you prescribe.

Set your trajectory for success from the very start.

If you start off right and create great habits at the start of your career, you can avoid the common symptoms of burnout and frustration that so many Doctors experience.

About The Author

James Riviezzo

Over the past decade, I have served over 50,000 (mostly) satisfied patients. I have tracked measured and documented what makes a successful practice inside (and outside) the third party payer and oversight system of medicine.