Blog | Thursday, May 16, 2019

Lessons learned from the National Champions

All physicians have failures. The best physicians learn from those failures. They become better physicians and work on continuous improvement.

Everyone who knows me well knows that I have had a 52-year obsession with UVa basketball. While I love all the sports teams, basketball is my true love. Better wordsmiths than me would have a difficult time explaining my joy in their championship game. You can imagine my dark place after last year's loss in the first round.

So what does this have to do with medicine. Maybe nothing, but we can learn important lessons from literature, music and sports. In this case I will likely stretch the lessons, but in my post game euphoria, please indulge me.

Lesson #1 – Do not let a failure define you, rather let it motivate you. Focusing on diagnostic errors (which we all make), learn from those errors. Every diagnostic error happens for a reason, explore the reasons and own them. Perhaps you (like Virginia) will need to modify some procedures.

Lesson #2 – Pay attention to the details. Virginia's coach, Tony Bennett, stresses playing each possession without regard to future possessions. Stay in the moment, analyze where you are, without regard to what you were thinking yesterday. Has the patient gone down the path expected? Does the diagnosis still make sense.

Lesson #3 – Do not be scared to change your approach. Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them.

Lesson #4 – Embrace humility. We are never as good as we desire, nor as bad as we fear. Understand who you are, and work to better yourself, even if you really are pretty good. We can always improve. We can always learn something from others.

Lesson #5 – Value everyone on the team. Nurses can make us better; clerks can make us better; the cleaning staff helps everyone. As an attending physician, I learn from the residents, interns and students. My first goal is to help everyone improve and to focus both on the patients and the learners. We learn from our patients. Minimize hierarchy and then everyone benefits.

I hope that I have provided some food for thought. I cannot describe my happiness with basketball today. But almost every day I have that same happiness with internal medicine. I continue to make mistakes, but do not fear them. We all try to minimize them, but when they occur we must learn from them for our own sake and more importantly for the next patient's sake.

db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, MACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and the former Regional Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds regularly at the Birmingham VA and Huntsville Hospital. His current titles are Professor-Emeritus and Chair-Emeritus of the ACP Board of Regents. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.