Life and how to live it

First, an apology, dear readers, for my unplanned hiatus from writing.  My three weeks on the burn service were exceptional (and not necessarily in a good way).  When sleep and workouts came off of the list of daily choices, writing also ceased.

In the midst of the madness, I was at least able to attend the pre-graduation dinner for the University of Utah School of Medicine Class of 2014.  This group of individuals have been remarkable to work with over the last 4 years as I’ve watched them grow from scared but enthusiastic junior students gaining clinical exposure at the 4th Street Clinic on Saturday mornings to scared but enthusiastic…interns?!?  Yes, indeed, one of them will be my intern at some point in the coming academic year.  The growth I have seen in all of them as individuals and as young doctors has been amazing, and I believe they know that I’m sincere when I tell them I am honored to have been so involved in their education.

In the shadow of their graduation last weekend, I wanted to provide some little wisdoms, things that I’ve learned over the years (some the hard way, some as good advice).  I would welcome additions in the comments and/or via Twitter responses since I continue to learn some 16 years out from my own medical school graduation.

  • Make friends with your co-residents.  They will keep you sane, they will pull you through the hard times, they will be your family for the next several years.  I still have fond memories of one of my residency classmates “informing” me that I was coming over to her house for margaritas when I was threatening to sit home and wallow in self-pity.  It’s a fact that I would not have made it through residency without her.
  • “Please” and “thank you” are worthwhile words that facilitate working relationships.
  • Do not take yourself too seriously.  We all have fallibilities.
  • We all make mistakes. Be patient with those around you when they make them, and be kind to yourself when you do (and you will).
  • Stay curious.
  • Learn names.  Patient names, family member names, nurse and scrub tech names, medical assistant names, the guy who works at Starbucks at 2 am’s name, the housekeeper’s name, the medical student’s name.  Think about how important you feel when someone calls you by name, particularly when it’s someone in a position of authority.  Reciprocate that to everyone around you.
  • Ask questions, especially during your residency.  If you already knew everything you wouldn’t need to be a resident.
  • Have something(s) in your life that you are as passionate about as your career.  Your career won’t last forever, and you’ll still have to live with yourself when you retire or can’t practice anymore.
  • The gift of our profession is getting to play a role in the life of those people whose paths intersect with ours.  Get to know them, admire them, and it’s okay to love them. I have a number of my patients who I wouldn’t trade having the opportunity to know for anything- they make me a better person.
  • Know what fills you up when you are depleted.  Make sure that some of those are quick things that you have easy access to so they can be there for you at any time (e.g. 3 am when you haven’t slept much in a couple of days).
  • Be authentic.  People know when you’re not.
  • Let your mentors know how you are doing.  We’re invested in you, and we love to celebrate your successes.  We also want to help you when you’re struggling- even if you’ve been out of our nest for years.
  • Ask for help when you need it, be it clinical questions, personal support, or career guidance.  None of us achieve great things without a supporting cast.
  • Admit when you’re wrong.  Most critically, do NOT blame others when you are wrong.  You will (deservedly) earn a terrible reputation amongst your colleagues if you do.
  • Be kind.  On the days when it’s hard to be kind, redouble your efforts.
  • If you wake up and find you don’t care about your clinical work and your patients, it’s time to walk away from it- perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever.
  • Keep a file of thank you notes from patients, families, colleagues, support staff- whomever.  Pull it out on those days that try you to the core of your soul and be reminded that you’re in this for a reason and that you are making a difference. (This is arguably the best piece of advice I received.)
  • I still consider it a privilege to by a physician and a surgeon (even after the last three weeks of madness on call).  It’s my hope that you do, too.

Godspeed, friends, and know that I believe you’ll do great things.

Adding one that I forgot: Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo; take chances (reasonable ones, of course, that don’t jeopardize lives and loves).  That’s how medical care- and your life- gets moved forward.