Why teach?

This past week was Surgery Education Week, the annual joint meeting of the Association of Program Directors in Surgery and the Association for Surgical Education. It’s a meeting that I first attended in 2001 and I haven’t missed a year since. I say that not as a point of boast, but to highlight my enthusiasm for this meeting; a week with people who share a passion for all things surgical education is professionally reinvigorating.  This year it definitely happened at the right time for me to get my bearings back.

My friend Chris Brandt was our ASE president this year, and he delivered a personal and heartfelt Presidential address on Thursday. Within the context of his speech, he asked an important reflective question for me as an educator, and one that I suspect will resonate with many of you:

“Why teach?”

Some of us fall into teaching semi-naturally; for me, it started with Vacation Bible School and helping in preschool Sunday School while I was still in high school, then teaching preschool part-time for part of College.  I  taught while I was in graduate school (if you haven’t read Dr. Seuss’ Butter Battle Book, you obviously weren’t in one of my international relations sections), and the one thing I knew in medical school before I was certain that I wanted to be a surgeon was that I wanted to teach.

But why?

For me, it’s the idea of paying it forward.  I’m certainly not going to wax philosophical about how every single teacher I’ve had has been amazing- that would be a flagrant lie. That said, I can tell you about my teachers who really made a positive difference for me. Steve Hoemann (English, 7th Grade). Carole Buchanan (World History, 10th Grade). Louise Bianchi (Piano teacher, 9th-11th Grade). Claudine Hunting (French professor, Undergrad). Mike Ward (Advisor/ International Relations, Graduate school). Jim Knight (Leadership in Medicine, Medical School). Danny Custer (Pediatric Surgeon, Medical school- I “blame” him for my career in surgery!). There’s one common thing that each of them did and that I value immensely: they made me better in some way. I know that I would not be who I am doing what I do in the way that I do it without this group of people, only two of whom actually knew each other. I also know that I am fortunate that they believed in me enough to challenge me, enough to push me out of my comfort zone, because they saw potential.

Why teach?

Because now it’s my turn to find that potential in learners, to nudge them out of their comfort zone, to help them be better.

Besides, the emails and notes that you get for this are pretty awesome. I can’t read any of them without smiling and thinking, “THIS.  This is why we put in the extra effort, the extra thought, the extra time.”

So, what’s your story? Why teach?

The Buddha Walks into the OR Part 4: Exertion

In our continuing quest to bring more fierceness to our lives and how we live them, today’s blog will dig into the 4th Paramita: Exertion.

We don’t mean exertion in the sense of running 200 meter repeats in 94 degree heat, even though that’s what I did yesterday evening.

We don’t mean exertion in the sense of working yourself into a state of exhaustion, depleted of all energy.

What we do mean related to the idea of making a joyful effort. Exertion in the Buddhist sense is finding the energy to do all of the things that you do. It’s understanding what your motivation is, and using that to sustain you during those times when your energy wanes. How many of us can think of those days when it’s been a long, hectic day in clinic or in the OR that leaves you completely drained…then you find a thank you note from a patient or their family, or from a mentee? How many times has some small reminder of why we do what we do, particularly on the days it’s not easy, suddenly helped you to hang in there an hour or two longer? Suddenly we find our endurance…our sustenance…our ability to forget about how tired we are and just focus on what we’re doing right here and right now. The slog transforms into a (relatively) joyful effort, simply with one small thing that pulls us back to our purpose and back to the present.

Exertion includes the idea of persevering during failure, and viewing a failure as a step towards success. This recent publication from a Princeton professor has been met with some controversy, particularly by those who hold that you can only afford to catalog your failures if you are viewed as successful. He openly acknowledges that each and every one of his failures in academia has been a building block for his success- and perhaps that in some ways the failures have been more important than the successes. It’s an ideal example of exertion in action (and I’ll confess that I am particularly fond of his meta-failure; I related to it since my Blog is read far more than all of my academic publications combined!).

Exertion, perhaps most practically, comes back to that critical idea of managing your energy so that you can do all of the important things.

Think for a moment about things that deplete you of energy. How many of them orient around fear, doubt, anxiety, not knowing, trying to “force” things to meet expectations? I’ll admit that for me that last piece is critical- it’s often the things I feel like I should be doing to meet some external expectation (real or made up) that drain my energy the most. I’ve learned that any sentence that includes the phrase, “Well, I should…” is an indicator that danger is lurking.  Shoulding all over yourself is inherently a bad idea and if I may give you one piece of advice about this behavior, it would be to stop it.

Now think for a moment about those things that provide you with energy. Some of them are probably quiet and peaceful- laying in a hammock somewhere listening to bird calls, falling asleep in a tent next to a river, meditating. I suspect that more than a few of them are not things that are quiet and peaceful, and that some of them are in fact incredibly challenging from a mental or physical perspective.  How is your energy level at the end of a big, difficult operation when you KNOW you’ve been able to help someone? At a rock and roll show with your favorite band (I’ll humbly suggest a Jason Isbell concert as an example)? At the end of a track workout with 200 meter repeats in blistering heat with friends who make it fun, even when it’s hard (I left mine giggling last night)?

Show up. Work hard. Remember your motivation. Stay present. Mind your energy.

Or, as my favorite running tank says, “Nothing about this is easy. Everything about this is worth it.” If that’s not a phrase consistent with creating a joyful effort, I don’t know what is.




The aftermath

This week has been dedicated to recovery/ clean up after being out of the office for a week, as well as “catching up” on my call load.  I can’t say that any of those things are enviable but they’re part of the package if I’m going to stay engaged with the broader surgical world.

When I have these long trips (this one included three separate meetings), I’m reminded of the great parts of what I get to do. I mean, I get to spend time with amazing colleagues like these:

ACS Leadership and Advocacy Opening Reception
ACS Leadership and Advocacy Opening Reception


ACS Advocacy Reception at the Top of the Hay
ACS Advocacy Reception at the Top of the Hay


Association for Surgical Education Twitterati on the loose!
Association for Surgical Education Twitterati on the loose!


Celebrating the always-fabulous Celeste's birthday in Boston
Celebrating the always-fabulous Celeste’s birthday in Boston


Did someone say chocolate fountain at the Presidential reception?  I'm there!
Did someone say chocolate fountain at the Presidential reception? I’m there!


Shhh...don't tell anyone I was playing hooky and clearing my head...
Shhh…don’t tell anyone I was playing hooky and clearing my head…

I realized coming home that I would have to do a lot of “next manageable bites” because of three different deadlines I’m juggling these next two weeks, and that’s been largely successful. One of the deadlines is making me nutty, mostly because I don’t think I have all of the information I need to make it happen, but that’s something I’ll brainstorm the next few days.

And, of course, coming home is always great.  I’m back in my “native” eating environment, I get pet therapy every time I walk into the house, and I’m able to process lots of things that happened during some spectacular meetings last week. Oh, and I got to go for a little run on Sunday and spend time with my running tribe.

Mile 7.8 of 13.1
Mile 7.8 of 13.1


We run because we get to- and it's a wonderful thing on a beautiful April day like this one!
We run because we get to- and it’s a wonderful thing on a beautiful April day like this one!

It’s a privilege to get to travel and be part of amazing things.  It’s a joy to come home, even with a wackadoodle (and busy!) call schedule this week.