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5 “Professional” Lessons from 50 Years of Practice

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Fifty years seems like a long time and given that length of time, I should have some lessons learned that might be worth sharing in my roles of pediatrician, medical geneticist, educator, administrator and author.
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When I recently retired at the end of 2020 from the clinical practice of medicine, I must admit that I was somewhat disoriented.  I didn’t have to get up before sunrise to start my commute. I wasn’t listening to NPR to start my day.  I, all of a sudden, was not an integral part of a team providing care and support to children and families that sought our expertise and care.  And I missed it. If the families derived some benefit from my care, I must acknowledge that I derived even more benefit. I was a first-hand witness to remarkable children and families–their trials, their tribulations, their emotional rollercoasters, and their resilience. I learned so much from them that I did not want to forget my learning experiences.

So, over the last year, I have been reflecting about the now close to 50 years since college.  Over the last 30 years I have been sharing various articles in the local newspaper and via my other writings (on my website, linked below), but most of those communications have not been professional in nature. Fifty years seems like a long time and given that length of time, I should have some lessons learned that might be worth sharing in my roles of pediatrician, medical geneticist, educator, administrator and author.  Recently I was asked to write an article about my professional journey.

When I was completing that, I took the time to highlight 5 lessons learned.  As I detail them below, I also realize that they have applicability to all of our social interactions [in brackets below] and that every day is a day to learn and improve.

 

  • Trust the intuition of parents. Parents are with their children more than I am, they know their children the best, and their concerns are real and provide valuable insight for the evaluation and potential treatment. Granted, my professional expertise can pick up unrecognized things that parents don’t see but ignore the gut reactions of parents at your peril and often to the detriment of your patients. [Trust the intuition of your family members and those in your social circles. Their observations can be eye-opening and humbling.]
  • Listen…Listen intently. It sounds so simple to do but, in reality, is so hard at times. We seem to be listening but are we really? Active listening requires us to put aside the multiple distractions (including our computers), turn to the patient, and let them know that their issue is now your issue. [Listen intently to your children, family members, friends and fellow citizens. Only then can we share in our pursuit of the common good and the changes needed. It tends to make us less selfish and more selfless in service to others.]
  • Leave your biases at the door. Before doctors see patients, we review a variety of materials. These materials might provide valuable background material, but they might also provide information that can mislead us going forward. It is critical to be open-minded when seeing patients to assist in their physical and emotional needs as our assessments and interventions progress. [When we have preconceived notions about others, we are less likely to be open to honest interactions. Biases, implicit or explicit, can be difficult to recognize, but when we do, it leads to more honest social interactions.]
  • Smile and engage. A smile is the universal symbol of shared humanity and demonstrates a willingness to engage with our patients. It does not diminish our professionalism, rather I think that it enhances it. It shows that we care. [A smile can light up a room and show that we are willing to engage with others.]
  • Remember our shared humanity. We could just as easily be on the other end of any medical encounter. As I have aged and had more than my fair share of medical encounters, I really appreciate the need to understand how patients feel and how I can make their experience more pleasant. I have welcomed it when medical providers have done the same for me. [Family and social interactions should always involve empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another).  Only then can we genuinely understand others and be understood.]

 

One does not need to finish a career to make reflections like those above, but I must admit that retirement is a great inflection point for such observations.  As we age, I plan to be a sage as much as possible.  And instead of being elderly, I want to be a trusted elder and continue to make pertinent suggestions that can be of some benefit—to myself and hopefully others.

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