1. A thick skin
You may think that your skin has been thickened by all the practice in asking strangers about their bowel habits, but nothing really prepares you for the first time you encounter difficulties in carrying out a procedure smoothly or with challenging patients or relatives. Add to that a growing list of tasks to do as your phone keeps ringing by your side.
At work, criticism (or perceived criticism) from other doctors or nurses or allied health team may also blindside you at first.
When faced with disapproval or downright hostility, you can tell yourself it’s never personal, and it’s always another chance to learn something.
Curiosity will take you that few steps further in finding out why your patient was admitted, or why his or her condition is deteriorating. “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all”, said Sir William Osler.
Be curious when it comes to real patients, because it’s often more interesting than books. For example, be curious about why someone is being started on one drug rather than another. Being curious about a patient’s story also makes them less two dimensional and easier to relate to.
Being curious about the patient’s disease and progress also helps you remember their details more easily, which can only help in their care.
As above, patience is important in eliciting the details in patient history and physical examination, or to wait for a response from other teams.
Patience and grit is also vital in picking up new skills. No matter how easy someone else makes a task or skill seem, no one is born knowing how to do something. Be patient and compassionate with yourself when you fail at first. Oftentimes, being less anxious helps you overcome challenges while learning new skills. A TED talk by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist on grit, suggests that the most successful are not those most blessed at the start with high IQ, social intelligence or good looks, but grit, or a willingness to try again.
4. Courage to ask
Be brave to volunteer for tasks that can help you learn, such as a research study or to scrub into a surgery. As much as possible, do try to exercise situational awareness e.g. be tactful around those who are known to be short tempered or overly negative.
On the corollary, if you find yourself bogged down with too much work with presents of little value, such as stacks of discharge summaries in certain departments, do have the courage to ask for help as well.
At work, fatigue is often a real problem. To counter this, try to cultivate good habits of sleeping early, since most doctors start work early in the morning. Monitor how different foods make you feel, and develop good eating habits. Spot emotional eating, if you are prone to that. Wearing scrubs often makes people unaware of weight gain, until it is significant.
Exercising regularly also helps with physical stamina at work. Wearing a pedometer can help some people get more exercise in their daily life, a result of the Hawthorne effect, where people modify their behavior for the better when monitored. MIMS
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