Understanding how medical malpractice occurs and is resolved is important to improving patient safety and preserving the viability of a physician's career in academic medicine. Every physician is likely to be sued by a patient, and how the physician responds can change his or her professional life. However, the principles of medical malpractice are rarely taught or addressed during residency training. In fact, many faculty at academic medical centers know little about malpractice.
In this article, the authors propose that information about the inciting causes of malpractice claims and their resolution should be incorporated into residency professionalism curricula both to improve patient safety and to decrease physician anxiety about a crucial aspect of medicine that is not well understood. The authors provide information on national trends in malpractice litigation and residents' understanding of malpractice, then share the results of their in-depth review of surgical malpractice claims filed during 2001–2008 against their academic medical center. The authors incorporated those data into an evidence-driven curriculum for residents, which they propose as a model for helping residents better understand the events that lead to malpractice litigation, as well as its process and prevention.