Making things better for you as a Paediatrician

Over the time I have worked looking after sick children I have experienced highs and lows, and although I generally find clinical work unstressful (academic work has its moments), I would like to share a few ideas regarding maintaining a balance and professional satisfaction.

These are derived from the writings of a modern medical ‘Guru’ professor Atul Gawande from the University of Harvard. In his book ‘Better‘ he refers to several ways in which we can gain personal satisfaction, some small parts of which I quote below:

1. Ask an unscripted question. Our job involves talking to strangers, why not learn something about them? This is important in making that human connection. My favourite surrounds talking about names and countries of origin. It is amazing the light in someones eyes if you can ask after their Grandma using that word in their own language (I have mastered 10 plus so far and counting) or make some other appropriate acknowledgement of a persons’s beliefs or culture.

2. Don’t complain. We all have things to complain about, and know how it feels to be tired and demoralised. Yet little is more dispiriting than hearing doctors complain. In addition it is boring, doesn’t solve anything and will get you down. Talk about anything else, a paper, an idea, an interesting case, sport, the weather…whatever but keep it positive.

3. Count something. Regardless of what one does within paediatrics one should stay true to the principle that we are scientists who use the art where needed. It doesn’t matter what you count, but that thing is of interest to you. From that you will learn something interesting. Professor Gawande counted mistakes made because the scrub nurse had not counted all the sponges in an operation. I have counted many things, including recently with a team,the number of different paper forms there are at our trust for requesting investigations.

4. Write something. It makes no difference whether you write five paragraphs for a rag, a scientific paper, or a poem. Just write. What you write does not need to be perfect (e.g. this personal website). Just do it. Writing helps one step back and think through a problem and by offering your reflections to an audience this makes you part of a larger world.

5. Change. Individuals respond in three ways to new ideas. Some are early adopters, most are late adopters and some remain persistent skeptics who never stop resisting. Make yourself an early adopter. That is not embrace every new trend but be willing to acknowledge inadequacies in what you do and seek out solutions. As successful as medicine is, it remains replete with uncertainties and failure. This is what makes it human, at times painful, and also worthwhile.

Finally, I was sent this powerpoint presentation which contains a lot of wisdom, if only I had the discipline to follow it: Making your life as a Paediatrician less stressed.

An inspiring account of work/life priorities: Vital-Signs