The Power of One Letter – The Importance of Accurate Proofreading

A response to the Misunderstood Activity
created by Sheila B. (@therapytoo)

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In teaching some medical subjects, my students are directed to ensure that they have proofread all elements of a client (patient) encounter.  I use a real-world scenario to illustrate the importance of accurate proofreading and editing for corrections.   I often get responses from learners that “well it is JUST a small spelling mistake”.   Their prior learning is that when there is an error of just one letter within a word or sentence, it does not have a great impact because our brain is trained to fill in the missing pieces and to “gloss over” the error as it has been proven that our brain will just re-interpret (correct) the context.

However, in medicine, one simple letter can have a devastating impact on a client’s medical outcome.   I use the story of medical terms “otomy = to simply cut into a patient, explore and then close them up” versus the term “ostomy=to cut into a patient, potentially remove or excise vital parts, create an artificial opening and then close up the patient.”

The “s” is the power of one letter.   I illustrate both procedures and then ask the students to assess, if they were under the surgeon’s scalpel and the editor of the report had written “ostomy” as the intended procedure rather than “otomy”, now what is the power of that simple “s” in changing or influencing the intervention and outcome.

Students are typically struck by the importance and horrified if that would have happened to them or a loved one.   It seems to be very effective in that they never forget the story and it is a point of reference throughout the course when they are ensuring that their medical reports are error free.

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