By Julie Craig
Orthopaedic specialty doctor, the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast
Dear younger me
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it’s funny how many people have to wait for their own hindsight to kick in. Learning from others is basically getting the benefit of their own hindsight. To paraphrase a colleague, it’s good to learn from mistakes, but they don’t have to be your own. All the time we are learning from people with more experience in some way, and orthopaedic training is no different.
In medicine, and particularly in trauma and orthopaedics, we tend to fix things, or at least find the bit we can fix and deal with that. We like straight-forward solutions and often think that just telling people what to do is enough to make them ‘get it right’. Actually, people are generally already trying their best and doing what they think is right. If they’re not already ‘just getting it right’, then there’s probably some reason for that. It’s probably a different reason from what you think, and their hurdles and priorities may be different from yours. They probably need to be supported or taught in some different way, so try to do more listening than judging.
In fact, changes that work and that stick usually involve a lot of small steps and need to consider everyone’s priorities and perspectives. The quality improvement community has been clued into this for years. It’s not just about getting it right first time. You can just do the next right thing based on the information you have. Then you can (and should) reassess and iterate. Iterating is a powerful sign that you’re learning from experience rather than a sign that the initial plan was a failure. So don’t be sniffy at ‘iterative processes’ because they build their long-term success on learning from experiences, either good or bad. Life is a bit like that too. The biggest successes are often grown out of the biggest challenges.
Working in the NHS, being a doctor, having a family, or just being a human, can be full of challenges, and that’s never going to go away. However, the way you deal with challenges will be a game changer. In every challenge, there is usually a hidden opportunity. As Ryan Holiday’s book says, “the obstacle is the way”. At the very least, difficult times are a chance to have the right kind of attitude, be the right type of person, and show that you value others.
And whenever I say ‘people’, you’re one of those people, that will try and ‘fail’ and learn and iterate, but the challenges are the best places to learn, little by little. Have grace and patience for yourself and others as they learn from mistakes too. Even when things seem to go wrong, get used to saying “maybe this is an opportunity”. The small things you do every day are what makes you who you are. As Aristotle (maybe) said “we are what we repeatedly do”.