09/10/2011 09:11 EDT | Updated 11/10/2011 05:12 EST

The Redefined MD

You know what we call a Major League ballplayer with a .300 batting average? Most people would call that very successful, but how many of them would go to a surgeon with a .300 batting average? Didn't think so. You probably think that most of my medical mistakes happened when I first started out more than 20 years ago, and that they stopped happening as I gained experienced. They didn't.

Here's the thing: the people who look after you are human. That means they are going to make mistakes. The more complex medicine becomes, the more mistakes we make. Recently, a well-respected heart specialist nearly killed my father because he put him on a cocktail of medications that gave him an almost lethal overdose of potassium.

Show me any health professional -- great and not so great -- who says they don't make mistakes or haven't made one in years, and I'll show you someone who has trouble admitting the truth.

Good doctors exercise judgment. They make the call and -- right or wrong -- live with the consequences and learn from them. The redefined MD is flawed, but comfortable inside their own skin. When you get to that place, you can like yourself in spite of your mistakes. You can admit them without being defensive. You can talk about them with colleagues, without fear of being judged or unworthy. You can talk to patients and their families about the mistakes you made on them. You can ask them for forgiveness.

The redefined MD is able to access the still, small voice that says I'm about to make a mistake -- or I've just made one and I need to undo it before it's too late.

When you're auditioning a new family doctor, nurse practitioner, heart specialist, surgeon, oncologist or obstetrician, embrace the redefined health professional. Don't ask them if they get enough sleep. Assume that they don't. Instead, ask them how they cope with sleep deprivation. And please don't ask them if they've ever made a mistake, because you know they have. Everyone does. Instead, ask them this: when you made that mistake, what's one thing you learned from it?

Dr. Brian Goldman will be speaking in more detail about redefining health professionals at the third annual TEDxToronto conference on September 23 at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning in Toronto.

The event will be available on free live streaming at