DO you remember being a wide-eyed and impressionable medical student?
Do you remember looking up to certain doctors who had the “right touch”, who seemed to glide into every interaction with wit and charm, who the nurses swooned over and patients loved?
They stood out because of their deep compassion for their patients and balanced this with sharp clinical skills and approachability.
Contrast that with the frustrated, angry and burnt out doctor who didn’t acknowledge your existence; who snarled impossible questions at you and didn’t even bother to ask for your name. Your hair stood on end when they approached, nothing ever seemed to be right and patients were often confused and unhappy with their interactions.
Did you know that both these doctors have played a part in shaping the type of doctor that you are today?
Whether good or bad, we are the composite of our teachers and clinical experiences.
From those doctors kind enough to help and who have had a direct hand in our clinical career to those who we have admired from afar, we mirror the best and sometimes the worst of what we’ve seen and learned.
The question is, how do we steer our careers and lives towards being doctors who truly make a difference?
I believe the one thing that will allow you to have a long and meaningful career is using the power of self-reflection. Being able to self-reflect allows us to enhance and sharpen our best skills, and stop self-sabotage and other elements of our behaviour which are keeping us from progressing.
If you want to be the type of doctor who attracts opportunities, you need to be the type of doctor who others want to be around. It is that simple.
We’ve all seen brilliance wasted and lives broken because of the relentless pursuit of power and prestige and the failure to stop, reflect and self-care.
The one question that we as medical leaders must start to ask is: “What is the one thing that others would say that I need to change about myself to be the type of doctor who enriches the lives of others?”
One year ago, I left general practice to undertake the Clinical Diploma of Palliative Care, balancing this with my anaesthetic practice.
I knew that this work would be emotionally and psychologically challenging and, due to my history of burnout, I organised a monthly clinical supervision session with a senior colleague.
To my surprise, the conversations in our sessions did not focus on palliative care, but rather on the most glaring and distressing aspect of my personality.
Every clinical story that we dissected and reflected upon almost always came back to my insistence on perfection.
While I had perfectly administered over 200 epidural and spinal blocks in 6 years as a GP anaesthetist, I couldn’t let go of having two failed spinal blocks that recently occurred in quick succession of each other.
While I had perfectly tried to help several patients with severe depression, I couldn’t let go of those who had harmed themselves.
While I had perfectly organised my life to ensure balance, replenishment and happiness, I continually failed, in my eyes, to feel rested and enjoy my days.
Further from my clinical life, perfectionism was hurting my family, affecting the way that I was raising my sons, with rigid rules, unfair expectations and increasing harshness against their tender spirits.
But most of all, it was hurting my wellbeing, leaving me increasingly anxious, hypervigilant and incapable of self-compassion.
The blue sky that I found was in my clinical supervision sessions around the concept of being a “good enough doctor”, which was first observed and written about by British paediatrician Donald Winnicott in his observation of thousands of mothers and babies, when he described the “good enough mother”.
This one thought brought freedom to my clinical work and personal life. It allowed me to practice self-compassion inwardly, and outwardly offer it to those in my world because I was indeed a “good enough doctor”.
Applied to all areas of my life, I began to pursue mastery rather than perfection, as grounded in mastery is the ability to adapt, learn from mistakes and, most importantly, offer yourself self-compassion, which fuelled my drive to continually improve.
Just as a coach skillfully helps to guide a world class athlete, who is helping us as doctors to self-reflect and guide our own careers?
The most important thing that doctors can do to have a long and meaningful career is stop and practise self-reflection. It is the one thing that allows great doctors to leave an even greater lasting legacy.
Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan is a GP/Anaesthetist from Albany, WA
Parts of this article originally appeared in Defence Update.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless that is so stated.