5 reasons to stop saying doctors are 'second victims'

The term promotes the belief that patient harm is random, say families and patients

It’s time to abandon the term ‘second victim’ as a way of describing health professionals who experience a stressful fallout from medical errors, say families and patients affected by such mistakes.

The expression was first used in 2000 by US professor Albert Wu of Johns Hopkins University to acknowledge there is usually a second victim when a medical mistake is made — the health professional who feels responsible and traumatised by what happened.

Second victim has become a widely used term, but it’s increasingly viewed as inappropriate, according to an editorial in the BMJ by four people described as advocates for safety in healthcare — who also have relatives who have died from medical errors.

Its use has reinforced the inward-looking, professional-centred nature of healthcare, writes lead author Dr Melissa Clarkson (PhD), the assistant