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Moments in Surgical History
February 2011February 21, 2011

Harvey Cushing's Open and Thorough Documentation of Surgical Mishaps at the Dawn of Neurologic Surgery

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2011 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2011

Arch Surg. 2011;146(2):226-232. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2010.319

The recognition of surgical mishaps and their correction in subsequent cases was critical in the evolution of the discipline of neurosurgery during its infancy. The Johns Hopkins Hospital surgical records from 1896 to 1912 were reviewed, and 30 cases documenting the self-reported surgical errors of Harvey Cushing, MD, were selected for further analysis. We demonstrate that alongside pioneering profound advancements in medical care, Cushing openly acknowledged and described significant instances of human error, mistakes in judgment and technique, and equipment and supply oversights, regardless of whether these events affected patient outcome. Mistakes were analyzed and recorded to be drawn on as lessons to improve future care. This review defines the attitude toward documenting and reporting medical errors present at the founding of the field of neurosurgery as one of forthright acknowledgment in the pursuit of innovation.