How Can I Be Successful?
I love interviewing applicants for residency. There is so much excitement laced with uncertainty of how their paths will unfold - where will the match lead? Will there be fellowship in the future or no? Private practice or academic medicine. An open book full of empty pages in which they are about to start writing their story.
Even more, I love when a student asks me how to be successful - what should they do? See, it turns out that the ever common feedback to "Read deeply and broaden your knowledge base" is useless. Read deeply about what? Broaden my knowledge base how? In the overwhelming world of medicine, how do I focus my energy appropriately so I become better, so I can move forward, so I can achieve my dreams?
I used to give that same advice. Keep reading, work on efficiency, blah blah blah. Really, it is not personal. It is not helpful and it never made me better. So, I spent some time reflecting on the best advice, comments and recommendations I ever received. What stuck with me? What helped me? How can I harness that in order to help others?
If I have the opportunity to spend some significant time with someone, we can learn from each other. I can give more specific advice on how they can improve. And guess what? I ALWAYS aim to ask how I can improve. Feedback is a two-way street.
But, in the midst of those residency interviews, there is no prior rotation together. There are just pages of applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation and transcripts. I cannot provide personalized feedback. Yet, I want to answer that question honestly and in a way that is of value.
How can you be successful? Level up and think ahead.
Level up. I know, I know. It sounds like yet another useless piece of advice. But, let me tell you a little more about what I mean.
Medicine is ALWAYS a hierarchy. The student learning from the intern who learns from the resident who learns from the fellow who learns from the attending who learns from the chair and so on. In the midst of that hierarchy, you can leverage it to drive your personal development.
Wherever you are in that hierarchy, when you ask me how to be successful, what should you learn, how do you focus? I say level up. Set your sights on ONE level above you and aim to be BETTER than the person in that role. Are you a medical student? On your next rotation, ask about the expectations for you AND the intern. Observe the intern and strive to do that job as well as they do, if not better. Fellow? Be better than your attending. Yes, this may be a big jump, but if you focus not on what you need to do to fulfill your current role, but how to fulfill the one a level above you, you will find where your gaps are. What do you need to learn? What skills should you hone? It will not matter what rotation you are on, what school you are at or where you end up because there is always going to be the hierarchy to follow. It will also make the next transition of roles easier because you have been preparing for it in advance.
Ok, now that you are preparing to level up, I will next challenge you to think ahead. How do you do this in a meaningful way? You think about what you will need in the next 48 hours. In the hospital, this may mean thinking about what the next 48 hours for your patient may entail - will you need to plan a discharge? What details still need to be finalized? Start making those plans now. Is there a test pending for tomorrow? What will you do with those results? How will that impact your plan of care today?
Bring this idea into the rest of your life also. Make more margin by thinking ahead - Do not look at tomorrow, but plan for the day after. Your days will be easier, you will be more organized and you will give yourself 48 hours to learn what you need and solve a problem. It wards of self-created emergencies from procrastination. *Disclaimer, this does not negate the need for long-term goals or 5-year plans, this is about how to be successful in day-to-day activities.*
No, my advice is not evidence based, it is not perfect, but if you find yourself in my office, or sitting next to me on a plane, and ask me how to be successful you will hear the same thing. Why? Because it works. It ALWAYS gives you a specific goal and a timeline to work toward.
Go ahead, I dare you: Level up and think 48 hours ahead of yourself.