Skip to Main Content

Faculty Development: Email 7 Engaging Pt Tragedies

Resource Email 7 Engaging Patient Tragedies

“We need to be able to say, “Stay here. We’ll be with you.””

Even when being “with you” is in a toilet stall.  

This Week’s Piece, A Pitiful Sanctuary, is not an easy read. Here’s the link to the Piece

The author describes meeting patients where they are, literally. And for these patients, with severe drug addictions, it is in the stalls of the clinic. As you read this Piece, notice your own reactions. They may be visceral. Don’t turn away from it. Rather, embrace it AND then consider what you do to tend to yourself when faced with tragedy with our patients.  Failure to do this sets us on a path that can lead to depersonalizing our patients, disconnecting emotionally and losing our passion for the fields we worked so hard to enter. 

After reading this Piece, consider this. Several terms are used for what this author experienced in these patient encounters. One is Second Victim by The Joint Commission.  Another is Vicarious Trauma.  Don’t let the reference to mental health clinicians and adverse events fool you, this applies to all of us who tend to patients where they are. And, because it applies to all of us, then all of us need to be mindful of the impact and on how to care for ourselves and each other.

For our Residents in Second year and beyond: A new group of residents joined us this week. And they will encounter patient tragedies and elements of second victim/vicarious trauma. Please remember what that was like for you. And as this author noted, please tell our new residents as they face this  “Stay here. We’ll be with you.”

For our faculty: Please save this to your Faculty Development email folder.  A critical component of wellbeing in a career in medicine is learning how to engage the tragedy AND work it through. Please be transparent with your new residents as they encounter this. It may be one of the most powerful lessons they learn from you.

For our new residents: Welcome to the weekly Piece of My Mind from JAMA. Each week we send this to all our residents, faculty, medical students and DOE staff. These offer a brief opportunity to step back, reflect, reset and resume. Please take that moment to read this and even better, to talk about it with others.

And, when you encounter patient tragedies, reach out to any of us, we’ve been there and want to be there for you.


Michael J. Schulein, Ph.D.

Resident Wellbeing Committee, chairperson

Division of Education