We meant no harm, yet we made a mistake; Why not apologize for it? A student's view

Dominic E. Sanford, David A. Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This essay explores the unique perspective of medical students regarding the ethical challenges of providing full disclosure to patients and their families when medical mistakes are made, especially when such mistakes lead to tragic outcomes. This narrative underscores core precepts of the healing profession, challenging the health care team to be open and truthful, even when doing so is uncomfortable. This account also reminds us that nonabandonment is an obligation that assumes accountability for one's actions in the healing relationship and that apologizing for mistakes can serve to heal. It argues that even medical students have an obligation to speak up when actions violate their moral beliefs, even if this means confronting a superior. Ethical principles cannot be abandoned in fear of adverse evaluation or failure to conform. Healthcare workers have an obligation to address mistakes made around the time of a patient's death with the patient's family. This responsibility trumps any selfish desire to avoid unpleasant feelings of guilt or regret. Such events often bring closure to already anguished relatives and spouses, and may help to facilitate the grieving process. This includes pressing forward the need to apologize to patients and/or their families when mistakes are made and when decisions are made that lead to poor outcomes for the patient, even when benevolently intended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-169
Number of pages11
JournalHEC Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Clinical ethics
  • Medical education
  • Medical error


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