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Doctors bury their mistakes say nurses who dish on medical care

Dave Masko's picture

FLORENCE, Ore. – While it’s known that doctors “bury their mistakes;” nurses are also spilling the dirt on other things doctors and hospitals do that patients may not be aware of; for instance, “despite nurses’ best efforts, hospitals are still filthy and full of drug-resistant germs.”

“We’re not going to tell you your doctor is incompetent, but if I say, ‘You have the right to a second opinion,’ that can be code for ‘I don’t like your doctor’ or ‘I don’t trust your doctor,’” explains Linda Bell, an RN, and clinical practice specialist at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses in Aliso Vijeo, California, who dished on what doctors, nurses and hospitals are “really all about” in the October edition of Readers Digest that features a special report on “nurses secrets,” with more than 17 nurses from across the country. In turn, TV programs such as “Nurse Jackie” have put the spotlight on the difficult job of being a nurse today, per one retired nurse here in Florence remembers “every day being very busy with patients, doctors and fellow nurses doing all sorts of crazy things even while people are dying.”

Nurses see what patients “don’t want to know”

Doris still moves quickly even though she’s 75. During a break at a Florence retirement home where this retried nurse volunteers, she planted an elbow on her upper knee, and rested her chin on her cupped hand and asked: “Do you really want to know what doctors do all day? First, it’s now a dark joke, but they really do bury their mistakes. Doctors are put on a pedestal in our society, but they’re just people with their own indiscretions. I’ve seen stuff that would shock anyone. I think most nurses would agree.”

In turn, more than 17 nurses from around the country answered Reader’s Digest call for them to dish on “what’s really happening in hospitals and medical centers today.”

For instance, one longtime nurse in Texas told Reader’s Digest in its October edition that “when you tell me how much you drink or smoke or how often you do drugs, I automatically double or triple it.”

“Feel free to tell us about your personal life, but know that we’re here for 12 hours with nothing to talk about. So the stuff you tell us will probably get repeated,” said a nurse in St. Petersburg, Florida, while a nurse from Pennsylvania revealed a shocking truth: “Your life is in our hands – literally. WE question physicians’ orders more often than you might think. Some of the mistakes I’ve headed off: a physician who forgot to order a medication that the patient was taking at home, a doctor who ordered the incorrect diet for a diabetic and one who tried to perform a treatment on the wrong patient.”

Hospitals are bad for your health

Gina, a nurse -- who blogs at -- revealed in a Reader’s Digest interview that “despite nurses’ best efforts, hospitals are still filthy and full of drug-resistant germs. I don’t even bring my shoes into the house when I get home.”

Also, nurses have to deal with a lot of horror while at work in America’s hospitals.

“I’ve had people blow out arteries in front of me, where I know the patient could bleed to death within minutes. I’ve had people with brains literally coming out of their head. No matter how worried I am, I’ll say calmly, ‘hmmm, let me give the doctor a call and have him come look at that,” explained a longtime nurse in Texas, while Reader’s Digest also noted that “by 2025, the United States is expected to be short about a quarter-million registered nurses.”

The Reader’s Digest report also revealed common hospital lingo:

-- Frequent flier: a repeat customer to the ER, often a patient with chronic medical problems who can’t afford to go anywhere else.”

-- Weekend syndrome: When doctors covering for a colleague on the weekend won’t make important decisions, particularly end-of-life ones.

-- Code Brown: A bed full of excrement. “Got a Code Brown in 214.”

-- Crump: To do downhill quickly or die. “the patient in 3 crumped last night.”

-- Gomer: Short for “get out of my emergency room” – a patient you dread.

-- Acute lead poisoning: Gunshot wound.

TV doctors and medical shows are a bunch of rubbish

“Grey’s Anatomy? We watch it and laugh. Ninety percent of the things doctors do on the show are things that nurses do in real life. Plus, there’s no time to sit in patients’ rooms like that,” explained Nurse Kathy Stephens Williams in the October edition of Reader’s Digest.

Also, a nurse in New York City noted its rubbish when a TV show feature patients friends and family having a good time when visiting a hospital. “This is a hospital, not a hotel. I’m sorry the food isn’t the best, and no, your boyfriend can’t sleep in the bed with you.”

In addition, Nurse Gina – who blogs at – noted that nurses and doctors lie a lot.

“If you ask me if your biopsy results have come back yet, I may say no even if they have, because the doctor is really the best person to tell you. He can answer all your questions.”

Moreover, Nurse Linda Bell told Reader’s Digest that “it can be intimidating when you see a physician who is known for being a real ogre make a mistake. Yes, you want to protect your patient, but there’s always a worry: Am I asking for a verbal slap in the face?”

Nurse Theresa Brown also revealed to Reader’s Digest that “every nurse has had a doctor blame her in front of a patient for something that is not her fault. They’re basically telling the patient, ‘you can’t trust your nurse.’”

Doctors’ admitting their deadly mistakes in recent studies

They take the Hippocratic Oath that asks doctors to “first do no harm.” Yet, the recent national health care debate revealed that many doctors are doing a lot of harm by killing their patients at an alarming rate.

Congressional records -- on the state of American health care that was outlined in numerous public records that lawmakers pored over during more than a year of debates -- show that “two thirds of junior doctors, or more, admit to having made a mistake that may have cost a patient their life.”

Also, a nurse supervisor at a New Jersey hospital told Reader’s Digest in its October edition that “if you have a choice, doesn’t go into the hospital in July. That’s when the new crop of residents starts, and they’re pretty clueless.”

Doctors getting bored with the same old, day in and day out

Nurses also told Reader’s Digest there’s concern that doctors are simply “getting bored with their jobs.”

“We know many doctors who are doing things other than practicing medicine in our area. They’ve cut their hours to enjoy life more. They work to live, rather than the old days when most doctors lived to work. Heck, we have doctors here who spend more time making beer or selling real estate in their spare time than being at the hospital,” explains Ritchie Boyd who works as a nurse in Eugene, Oregon.

In addition, doctors have also gone mainstream in recent years by becoming media consultants, hosting TV programs and hawking products at malls or on the Internet. These doctors say “their free time is their free time.”

Still, many Americans have placed doctors on a pedestal -- thinking they are totally committed to them as patients.

Doctors enjoying record earnings while making mistakes

An average doctor now days “makes easily in the hundreds of thousands. They put in the time at medical school, and they have bills to pay. They feel entitled to all that means being a doctor,” said a Eugene human resources worker at a major hospital who added: “I’d be toast if they heard me say this.”

“You have to understand. In a hospital setting, the doctors are gods.”

Studies of thousands of doctors have been done by the government, and each and every one points to such things as night shifts, doctor and nurse rotations that get mixed up, infection due to bacteria and other problems in hospitals and a host of ills associated with – in general – doctors being distracted.

“While it’s hardly news that doctors make errors, what’s most alarming say that in medicine is “that it’s still happening in this day and age of high tech medical systems.”

According to figures released to Congress by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and other federal and state regulating agencies, state that more than 100,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors. Another study has “99,000 Americans dying from preventable hospital acquired infections each year.”

Moreover, CMS investigators told lawmakers that medical malpractice law suits are in the hundreds of thousands and growing. Thus, more costs are added to an already strapped national health care system.

Doctors kill more people than in car crashes

To put it another way, more American are killed by a doctor’s mistake than car crashes, AIDS and even breast or lung cancer.

In turn, some in Congress are advocating a new federal “Center for Patient Safety” that is aimed at sorting out doctor’s errors with new federal standards and guidelines that would remove mistaken laden doctors from their ability to practice and, hence, “do no harm.”

However, given the probable outcome of the 2012 elections, a Republican controlled Congress would be against any new federal program that would increase the size and power of government.

Still, the nation’s “Institute of Medicine” has long advocated some sort of watch dog agency to check in on those doctors who kill patients by mistake.

Currently, the only recourse for family members who’ve lost a loved one due to a doctor’s mistake is the route of a law suit. And, with doctors raising rates to compensate for massive malpractice premiums, the cycle continues.

At the same time, Tea Party fans are calling for a repeal of the law that gives American children and millions some sort of health care. The view is “we got ours, and we don’t want to pay for others health insurance.”

Rich in America get the best medical care

While it’s understandable that many privileged Americans want to enjoy their bounty, and not pay more taxes to cover those poor who are uninsured, say health care advocates. Still, there’s still the issue of why are so many doctors making so many mistakes at a time when America’s hospitals have never been more high-tech.

Thus, it’s not a surprise that numerous Congressional health care subcommittees have asked doctors and hospitals "to clean up their act."

But there’s no strict enforcement other than taking legal action against these rouge doctors who, for whatever reasons, are making more mistakes than ever.

Also at issue is the practice of not allow patients to have longer visits with doctors who, on average, spend as little as five minutes with patients before prescribing pills.

Moreover, Nurse Theresa Brown told Reader’s Digest recently that “doctors don’t always tell you everything. They’ll be in the hallways saying, ‘she has a very poor prognosis. There’s nothing we can do.’ Then they don’t say that in the room. Sometimes I try to persuade them to be more up-front, but I don’t always succeed.”

In turn, it was the French philosopher Voltaire who said: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

Image source of an American nurse. Photo courtesy Wikipedia


Submitted by CliffordFlores (not verified) on
There can be a difference between what you and a health insurance company consider healthy. Some insurers will say that you have a health condition if you smoke, are overweight, are taking prescriptions, or had a medical condition in the past. If this describes you, you may want to search and read "Penny Health" on the web.

Submitted by NPs Save Lives (not verified) on
I totally agree with this article. I have seen health care from all sides of it as a hospital nurse, nurse practitioner and as a patient. It is scary as hell out here and it's about time people really knew what goes on. Too many times I had to bring mistakes up to MDs but I have also seen some horrendous mistakes made by nurses as well. I blame the system more than the individuals. We are rushed in all aspects of medical care. Insurance companies dictate what tests we can order and don't pay well so we have to cram as many patients in a day as we can to pay for overhead. Makes for a very dangerous recipe!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
While I was a patient in a 5 star Indianapolis hospital for surgery,a 7 day inpatient expected stay became a 55 day stay caused by surgical errors and medical negligence.The hospital did little to prevent infections and I developed staff and mrsa infections there,consent forms were not braught to me to be signed untill after I was given sedatives prior to surgery,a male nurse repeatedle made sexual comments to a female nurse and she enjoyed it,my severe surgical wounds were not taken care of propperly or even often enough,I had to endure 3 further major surgeries within a week for infection complications which were extreme and severe,My wife stopped a nurse from injecting me with another patient's medications while I had 4 full rolling posts of I V's being used on me,interns and doctors rarely washed before giving care to me,I was nude and uncovered as students were braught into my room as training...extremely surgery was watched by numerous students and I did not know this was to happen,students were allowed to perform nonconsensual rectal and other exams on me...I feel over humiliated an emotionally scarred permanently. My close relatives were told to visit me soon because I was in such poor condition that I may not live to the next day. I have F. A.P. disease and have not agreed to necessary procedures for several years now as a result of medical distrust. I was assured that the Indianapolis hospital I was refered to was the best place for my medical care. Hey doctors you were so very wrong !

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Well looks like the nurses are better than doctors. Why not take out all the doctors in the hospitals and just fill it with an all nurse medical staff. I bet they will do better as they claim.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
As a doctor I'm not surprised by the shameless bias of this article. The writer should set up a nurse only hospital and watch the death rate spiral.

Submitted by OncoRN (not verified) on
The last two comments reflect a level of defensive hostility that does nothing to change the current problems that obviously exist in today's hospital settings, and also could lead readers of the replies to infer an "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" attitude that reeks of childish indigence. Given your pay grade, I would expect more. Regardless, the article is of course biased, it is supposed to be biased. It's a report on NURSING surveys and opinions taken from NURSING blogs, and so much as admits to barely offering any research or data to officiate the claims made. As a nurse, I recognize the importance of a physicians role in patient care and respect the crucial need for disease focused care. However, an RN follows an equally important yet different focus in the patient centered model of care. Nurses are human, and therefore fallible to error, poor work ethic, and incompetence. Physicians are no different. Unfortunately, society, along with the help of Hollywood screenwriters, has continually given the credit to physicians for the majority of patient care. People are continually shocked when they arrive on the unit to begin receiving chemo, finding that it is NOT Gregory House infusing the toxic solution, but a 24 year smiling nurse instead. Nurses are assumed to be the cleaners of butts, the wound bandages, the pill dispensers and heart rate counters, with little recognition for their vast knowledge, keen intuition, and wide scope of practice. I was asked by several professors to not waste my talents by going to nursing school, why tutor premed students when you could GO premed? My response is always this. I KNOW I could be a doctor. I have no doubt in my academic talents, i just don't care for the model of care. I enjoy comforting, educating, worrying and monitoring my patients. I WANT to be their advocates and assist them in the path to health. That being said, as patient advocates, we often feel in conflict with the physicians, being paid triple or quadruple an RN's salary btw, that lay the path and direct what care they will or will not receive. But, i also want RESPECT, along with acknowledgement for my knowledge, skills, duties and the vital role i play in the medical world.. No one is advocating that we drive docs from our hospitals with torches and pitchforks, but there is very little attention given to the problems that nurses observe and face daily. How many patients have I kept from harm due to physician ignorance and incompetence? Countless. Nearly as many as I've saved from the many judgement errors, laziness and general ambivalence from other nurses. In conclusion...... grow up. Be a part of the solution and quit averting the blame. There is plenty to go around. Respect your nurses. They are a living and breathing patient monitor that could be a bountiful fount of information on the nuances you may miss or may not have the time to see. They call you at 3 am not because they have a patient in crisis and dont know what to do, they call you to make official what they already KNOW needs to be done. And, they do the dirty work. REALLY dirty work. And it's not for the mediocre pay. We're here because we WANT it. Because we care. So if we see physician incompetence, recognize it and call your fellow colleagues to step up their game and be better at what THEY do.

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