Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2017: The Lives of Doctors

Doctor fails: early warning signs of physician fatigue?

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 12 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5503
  1. Eleni Linos, associate professor1,
  2. Natnaelle Admassu, medical student2,
  3. Hala Sabry-Elnaggar, emergency medicine physician3,
  4. Peter MMC Li, otolaryngology head and neck surgeon4,
  5. Esther Choo, associate professor5
  1. 1Program for Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology, University of California San Francisco, CA 94143 0808, USA
  2. 2UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco Joint Medical Program, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
  3. 3Physician Moms Group
  4. 4Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, Stanford Medicine, CA, USA
  5. 5Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR
  1. Correspondence to: eleni.linos{at}

Linos and colleagues present a compilation of embarrassing doctor fails—from inappropriate I love yous to forgetting how a phone works

As doctors have become more comfortable and active on social media, they have started to share stories about personal experiences. This has led to posts of unexpected hilarity. A recent post on Physician Moms Group (, a large online forum for practising doctors who are also mothers,1 related a deeply embarrassing moment (fig 1).

Fig 1

Doctor fail posted on Physician Moms Group

Within hours, the post had received over 2200 likes and 235 responses, including several suggestions of ways the original poster could have quickly recovered from this situation (for example, using Adele’s song lyrics) and an outpouring of others’ embarrassing work related blunders.

From this and similar posts by doctors on Facebook and Twitter, we gathered several key examples of physician “fails.”

Inappropriate use of terms of affection

Multiple comments described stories of a doctor using terms of affection in inappropriate situations.

On about hour 32 of my shift, I left a message for a colleague, and at the end of it said ‘love you’ . . . he had a good laugh.”

“I’ve said ‘love you’ at the end of calling in refills to the pharmacy.”

“I called a colleague yesterday with an update on a mutual patient. When he picked up the call, I started the conversation with, ‘hey sweetheart, it’s me . . . ‘ Luckily he had a good sense of humour!”

“Called the surgery resident for a consult. I was getting off a 30 hour call. Said ‘k bye, love you.’ So embarrassing.” …

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