By Natasha Hetzel, Veterinary Education Manager and Kathrine Blackie, Quality Improvement Manager, Linnaeus

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None of us intends to make a mistake, but we know that this sometimes happens. We can be as well-trained, motivated and caring as possible but can’t always prevent things going wrong. The question is – when mistakes occur, how do we deal with the situation? And can we learn and develop from this?

Kathrine Blackie

It is crucial to have a culture at work that is transparent, positive and compassionate. Learning from our mistakes enables us to provide better patient care by making changes that avoid the same situation recurring.1

We must also support the wellbeing of team members who have been involved in cases where there has been a medical error, especially where a patient has come to harm. People come to work to do their best, and mistakes can make a significant emotional impact on our teams.2

Talking it through

Our ‘bakes and mistakes’ sessions are designed to address these issues directly, honestly and empathically. They provide a safe space for senior clinicians to share their personal examples of real-life mistakes with our graduates and interns. We run these sessions at the start of our cohorts’ careers with Linnaeus, such as the pre-start training camp for vets starting our graduate programme. They highlight how errors are inevitable – and the most important lesson is how we deal with them.

Our senior leaders talk with small groups about how mistakes have affected their clinical performance and emotional wellbeing. For our interns, we encourage them to share situations they may have experienced.

Linnaeus comprises 58 primary care and 17 referral practices, and we find that bringing together graduates and interns from these different teams helps them understand that oversights can happen anywhere. Our attendees often identify common errors, such as issues within communication systems or medication labelling, arming them with knowledge to take back to their own teams.

Most importantly, our senior leaders will explain how they dealt with the emotional impact of their mistakes. The fear of making an error can be as paralysing as the aftermath. Sharing ways to address the impact on your mental health equips our graduates and interns with the knowledge that this can be overcome.

The importance of transparency

Natasha Hetzel

It is also critical in clinical practice to turn errors into opportunities for making improvements, using patient safety systems.3 Our four-year partnership with VetSafe, the confidential significant event reporting service from the Veterinary Defence Society4 (VDS), has led to a range of updates in clinical care across Linnaeus’s primary care and referral centres.

VetSafe captures information about incidents or near misses in veterinary practice to encourage learning from mistakes, quality improvement and risk management. Using this insight and data, we have developed group-wide guidelines including an anaesthetic equipment checklist and an advice sheet for clients about giving cats pain relief.

After noting that a small number of patients had returned home with IV catheters in place, for example, our quality improvement team launched a campaign encouraging the use of red bandages for catheters to make them more visible. This has significantly reduced the number of patients going home with an IV catheter.

Using a reporting system helps us to identify areas of risk and protect our teams and patients. It also supports a positive culture in the workplace. Every Linnaeus practice must prove they have a no-blame culture for reporting errors. The Clinical Director at each site is asked to sign a Just Culture pledge; its principles include ensuring people are not judged or punished for making a mistake. The pledge is displayed as a show of commitment to the principles.

“Being open about our errors can make us feel vulnerable, but it is also a way to come out of a situation stronger as clinicians and as individuals.”

None of us wants to leave work thinking we’ve failed. Being open about our errors can make us feel vulnerable, but it is also a way to come out of a situation stronger as clinicians and as individuals. In fact, if we provide the right space and support, failure is as much a part of learning as success.

To learn more about Linnaeus’s Graduate Development Programme and Internship Programme, please visit

For more information about clinical excellence at Linnaeus, visit


  1. Tivers M, Adamantos S. Significant event reporting in veterinary practice. Vet Rec 2019; doi: 10.1136/vr.l1212
  2. Kogan LR, Rishniw M, Hellyer PW, et al. Veterinarians’ experiences with near misses and adverse events. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2018; 252: 586–95
  3. World Health Organization. Patient Safety. (accessed 22 November 2023)
  4. The Veterinary Defence Society. VetSafe. (accessed 22 November 2023)

Linnaeus is a highly respected community of more than 50 primary care and 17 referral veterinary practices based in the UK and Ireland. 

Part of the Mars family of businesses, the group comprises almost 6,000 employees and some of the country’s finest specialists, veterinary clinicians and nursing teams in the profession and together they are committed to excellence and delivering top quality care to their patients.  

The future of veterinary medicine is at the heart of everything they do and this is demonstrated through investment in their teams, facilities, equipment and continual professional development of its clinical and non-clinical staff. This includes a two-year support programme for new graduates, mental health first aid training for all practices and comprehensive nursing training programmes. 

Through its flexible and supportive culture, their teams can focus on delivering top quality care and contributing towards making A Better World for Pets. For more information about Linnaeus, visit

As part of the family-owned Mars Veterinary Health group, Linnaeus is committed to its purpose — A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS® — because pets make a better world for us.  

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