Undergraduate medical students' behavioural intentions towards medical errors and how to handle them: a qualitative vignette study

Isabel Kiesewetter, Karen D. Konings, Moritz Kager, Jan Kiesewetter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objectives In undergraduate medical education, the topics of errors in medicine and patient safety are under-represented. The aim of this study was to explore undergraduate medical students' behavioural intentions when confronted with an error.

Design A qualitative case vignette survey was conducted including one of six randomly distributed case scenarios in which a hypothetical but realistic medical error occurred. The six scenarios differed regarding (1) who caused the error, (2) the presence of witnesses and (3) the consequences of the error for the patient. Participants were asked: 'What would you do?". Answers were collected as written free texts and analysed according to qualitative content analysis.

Setting Students from German medical schools participated anonymously through an online questionnaire tool.

Participants Altogether, n=159 students answered a case scenario. Participants were on average 24.6 years old (30=7.9) and 69% were female. They were undergraduate medical students in their first or second year (n=27), third, fourth or fifth year (n=107) or final year (n=21).

Results During the inductive coding process, 19 categories emerged from the original data and were clustered into four themes: (1) considering communication; (2) considering reporting; (3) considering consequences; arid (4) emotional responsiveness. When the student hint/herself caused the error in the scenario, participants did mention communication with colleagues and taking preventive action less frequently than if someone else had caused the error. When a witness was present, participants more frequently mentioned disclosure of the error and taking actions than in the absence of a witness. When the outcome was significant to the patient, participants more often showed an emotional response than if there were no consequences.

Conclusions The study highlights the importance of coping strategies for healthcare professionals to adequately deal with errors. Educators need to introduce knowledge arid skills on how to deal with errors arid emotional preparedness for errors into undergraduate medical education.

Original languageEnglish
Article number019500
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018




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