We’ve all been there because we are all human and we all make mistakes, but how do we handle the aftermath? In this episode, Patricia is joined by our newest team member, Molly Estes, and guests, Rodney Fullmer and Blake Briggs at ACOEP Spring Seminar 2023 to discuss navigating the fear of failure.

Why do we fear failure?

Failure often has a negative connotation and can be associated with “rock bottom” or a sense that we’ll never recover. Unfortunately, this fear of failure can impede our ability to think critically and readily recall information, particularly in emergent situations. This, in turn, can negatively impact patient care and can affect our learning. Additionally, many of us were not taught effective coping mechanisms and tools for self-reflection. As medical students, you are not alone in your fear of failure. Residents and attendings have this fear too. They also experience imposter syndrome. It is unfortunately something that can follow you throughout your training. The key is to develop ways to cope with failure when it happens because inevitably it will.

How can we overcome it?

We can begin by recognizing that there is always something we can learn from every failure. When you embrace failure as an opportunity to learn, the fear of failure can begin to subside. It can be helpful to remember that, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” and “We do not rise to the level of our expectations.  We rise to the level of our training.”

When choosing a residency program, try to find an environment where you feel you will be supported in your learning. Surrounding yourself with leaders and mentors who can give you the constructive feedback you need, will help you grow as a physician and hopefully help you to better cope with failure when they occur.

Practice self-reflection. Ask yourself the truth of the matter to put the mistake or error into perspective. This will also allow you to filter out the less constructive feedback. Once you’ve had time to self-reflect, try to debrief with your colleagues and mentors who can help you to gain even more perspective.

If you find yourself frozen by fear, in the moment try to use simple sympathetic biofeedback. Focus on your feet in your shoes. Focus on your breathing. Focus on something that can help bring you back to the reality of the moment. This simple exercise can help you to stay out of your own way.

And when all else fails, remember this: We are all human. We are not perfect. At the end of the day, we are all practicing medicine.

Take-Home Points:
  • Failure is not fatal.
  • Search for and foster a safe environment for learning.
  • Look for leaders and mentors who can provide you with honest and constructive feedback.
  • Stay out of your own way.

Post by Patricia Capone, DO PGY-2


About Our Guests:

Molly Estes, MD
Clerkship Director, Medical Education Fellowship Director, and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Loma Linda University

Rodney Fullmer, DO
Associate Program Director, Swedish Emergency Medicine Residency Program

Blake Briggs, MD
Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee School of Medicine and Assistant Medical Director at UT Medical Center.

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Fear of Failure – Med Student Over Easy

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