Revealing their medical errors: Why three doctors went public

In September 2010, Kimberly Hiatt made a medical error. The critical care nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital miscalculated and gave a fragile 8-month-old baby 1.4 grams of calcium chloride, 10 times the correct dose of 140 milligrams.

The mistake contributed to the death of the child and led to Hiatt’s firing and an investigation by the state’s nursing commission. In April 2011, devastated by the loss of her job and an infant patient, Hiatt committed suicide.

Hiatt, who had worked as a nurse for more than two decades, was another in a long line of “second victims” of medical error, the term used in medical literature to describe physicians and other health professionals who often feel guilty and depressed after adverse events. Many physicians and other health professionals hold themselves to a standard of perfection, and when things go wrong, they feel alone.

Physician health experts estimate that 250 doctors commit suicide annually — a rate about double that of the general population. When doctors believe they have made a major medical error, they are three times likelier than other physicians to contemplate suicide, said a January Archives of Surgery study.

If the first instinct after an adverse event is to retreat from scrutiny into a spiral of shame and fear, sharing the ordeal publicly is probably the last thing to cross a physician’s mind. But a small group of doctors has done just that. Here are three physicians who shared their stories with the world in an effort to tell their colleagues and their patients that to err is human.

My latest. Read the whole shebang.