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Managing stress

Building resilience

Outcomes and adverse events

Male surgeon consoling another male surgeon

Stress following poor clinical outcomes and adverse events (accidents in Québec)

Few things make doctors feel as badly as learning that a patient has suffered harm from receiving medical care.

The qualities that contribute to making you a good doctor — compassion, empathy, sensitivity and responsibility — may cause you to feel distress when poor clinical outcomes and adverse events (accidents in Québec) occur.

It is normal to be emotionally affected when a patient suffers from an illness or serious complication. Feelings of guilt after a poor outcome are common. In retrospect, you may question your own care and wish you had done things differently.

Even when the risk was well known, had been explained to the patient, and all precautions had been taken, it is inevitable that a compassionate doctor will question his or her judgment and actions. An objective review of the events based on the facts will frequently demonstrate the actions taken at the time were reasonable and the outcome, however devastating, was unavoidable.

Following an adverse event, attend to the clinical, emotional, and information needs of your patient. Discuss with the patient any steps which might be taken to mitigate the harm. The process for disclosing harm from adverse events to patients and their families can be helpful emotionally to the physician as well.

For more information see Disclosure.

CMPA members are encouraged to call the CMPA for advice.

Medical students should speak to their supervisors.