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The morbidity and mortality conference (M&MC) appears to have sprung from the efforts of physicians to improve practice through the examination of medical errors and bad outcomes. The modern M&MC has had limited examination (and almost none outside surgery and anesthesia), but may be straying from the precepts from which it evolved. Learning from one's errors is important, but confronting them is difficult and is particularly delicate when done in conference. If the effort is successful, it can serve as a model. If unsuccessful, it can instead convey the lesson that attempting to learn from error is at best unproductive and at worst unpleasant. Thus, the M&MC is a double-edged sword, and particular attention should be given to the way that it is conducted. The authors review the historical roots and current literature on the M&MC, discusses relevant literature on medical error, and offers a definition, guiding principles, and a set of guidelines for a modern internal medicine M&MC. The ideas are presented not as a blueprint, but rather to stimulate a debate on the merits of establishing a framework for a working model, in order to refocus on the tradition of self-analysis and critical thinking in a manner that is productive for all participants.