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Editor's Comments on 'Guilt'

 , June 03, 2016

The strange, wonderful, and terrible thing about medicine is that it matters so much. Even as medical students, our actions can have profound and immediate effects on our patients’ lives. Take the exhilaration of offering the team a key detail from a well-taken history to cinch the diagnosis, or the gift we get and give by being there for families, just to listen, in their moment of crisis. Much less often, however, do we speak of our power to do harm, of our near misses and mistakes. In her poem “Guilt”, Sanaz Ghafouri, a 4th year medical student at George Washington University, explores the terrifying possibility, even probability, of making a mistake. She recognizes that harm happens in the small, forgettable moments – “a momentary lapse in judgment, an unclear mind” – and that it is only our own private vigilance over these details that keeps our patients safe. The story of this poem ends on a positive note, but reminds us all of the heights at which we practice, and the distance our patients could fall should we err.

Benji Perin