7 Ways to Be the Ideal Physician-Defendant

By the time you meet a medical malpractice defense lawyer, your part of the patient’s care is complete. Whatever actions you may have taken after an adverse event are far behind, and your portion of the medical record has been long untouchable. When you establish a relationship with your medical malpractice defense lawyer, however, a new chapter begins. New skills may be required, and unfamiliar tasks confront you. In my last two posts, “Your Med Mal Defense Attorney: The Expert You Need” and “3 Roles Your Med Mal Defense Attorney Can Play”, we explored how medical malpractice defense attorneys serve physician-defendants. Today, let’s ask what your medical malpractice defense lawyer needs from you. 

For this post, I inquired with medical malpractice defense attorneys about their ideal physician-client. Well, good news! The qualities they look for are ones physicians and other professional healers often possess in abundance. What’s more, none of them expects physicians to know malpractice law in advance.

So, what are the top 7 ways to be an ideal physician-defendant client?

1) Intelligence

You’ve got this one covered. You are a highly educated individual. Your med mal defense lawyer welcomes that in you. As one succinctly put it: “Every (physician) is smart, so that is a given.” 

Med Mal for Physicians: Being the Ideal Physician-Defendant

2) Integrity

The first time I met with my medical malpractice defense lawyer, he said, “Absolute integrity from start to finish makes everything easier.” He seemed to believe that almost any issue could be addressed as long as truthfulness underpinned the process. And as the case unfolded, his words proved true.

There’s no physician a reputable medical malpractice defense lawyer would rather represent than one with integrity. Unforeseen patient outcomes are no surprise to them. They know that we have no crystal ball. They’ve seen medical records which could have been stronger, heard stories of patient interactions that everyone wishes had gone better, met physicians confronted with the most awful experiences of their careers. If you find yourself afraid or ashamed of the details of your particular situation, think on this: med mal defense attorneys encounter only unexpected, adverse outcomes every day, all day long. 

Litigation Stress Coaching for physicians

Truthfully describe your situation as you understand it. Let adhering to the truth be your compass throughout the legal process. Make emerging from the process with a clean conscience your goal, as I’ve written before (CLICK HERE). If you ask me, that constitutes the real win!

3) Humility

Let’s just be blunt. Arrogance is unbecoming to everyone, no matter how talented, intelligent, or accomplished. It’s not equivalent to self-confidence or taking pride in our contributions, and it does not further a search for excellence.

Med mal defense lawyers naturally prefer honest humility in physician-defendants for various reasons:

  • They need a teachable client, and arrogance short-circuits learning. After all, if I already know it all, what could you possibly have to teach me?

  • The general public knows the difference between confidence and arrogance, and which one they prefer in a physician. Jurors are members of the general public.

  • Arrogance signals an underlying LACK of CONFIDENCE, or insecurity, which will smell like blood to any plaintiff’s attorney who likes to behave like a shark. 

If you are the type of person who values every human life equally, who knows that you are above no one, who has no fears about living an honest life free from pretense, and who recognizes your own limitations, rejoice! These qualities equip you well for what lies ahead.

If, on the other hand, you have sometimes received feedback that others (patients, co-workers, family?) perceive your speech or behavior as arrogant, regardless of your intent, I encourage you to make the most of this time for growth. The Universe is inviting you to dive in and examine your mindset as well as the ways in which your words and actions are perceived. Every relationship in your life stands to benefit.

Humility is one of the cardinal strengths of excellent physicians and fabulous humans. Embrace it!

Stacia Dearmin, MD

4) Capacity for Putting Others First

In this era of extraordinary physician burnout, it’s hard to ignore the fact that many of us feel pressured to put the welfare of others before ourselves to such a degree as to be to our detriment. That’s something we need to work on.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of a med mal defense attorney, a physician or other healer who demonstrates desire and willingness to care for patients under difficult circumstances or at inconvenient times is easier to defend. The capacity to put others first aligns with what society has expected from physicians for millennia. It’s part of the social contract between physician and patient.

5) Takes Responsibility For Own Actions

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”  — Ben Franklin

As I’ve written in prior posts (CLICK HERE), accurately or not, the public generally perceives physicians as captain of the ship when it comes to a patient’s care. And truthfully, I think few of us would want it any other way.

When things go wrong, most lay-people can accept that we sail every day in waters of uncertainty, and that not every action we take will have the outcome we desire for our patient. What they are less willing to accept in us is an unwillingness to own our actions and their repercussions.  Like Ben Franklin, they are suspicious of physicians and other providers who make excuses, or worse yet, throw others under the bus.

Sure, a med mal lawsuit rots. Even so, own the position of societal power which you have rightfully earned. Claim the authority you have to make decisions in real time under uncertain circumstances and honestly expect that others will respect you for trying to do right. After all your years of work, you deserve that self-respect.

What Physicians Need to Know About Med Mal Lawsuits

6) Preparation

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Your med mal defense attorney does not assign busy-work. Do yourself a favor and prepare, prepare, prepare in every way they request! Period.

7) Confidence

Nothing rocks a physician or other healer’s confidence like having a perfectly good patient interaction careen out of control into an unforeseen adverse outcome and medical malpractice lawsuit! I know. I’ve been there, and it hurts!

What I want you to know, though -- and what I hope you’re seeing as you make your way down this list of 7 things your med mal defense lawyer needs from you -- is that you very likely already possess the gifts you need to survive this tough situation. Most physicians, by their very nature, have cultivated these seven qualities in the course of daily life. All you need do now is rustle them up and bring them with. Trust that you know what you know, and that you do what you do for important reasons. You’re articulate, intelligent, and valuable. You will get through this.

If you find yourself doubting your capacity to run this marathon, consider reaching out to me for confidential support. One-on-one coaching may be just the tool you need. 

And if you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog for the next post in this series. 

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