In my last year of training, I came to realize the difference between doctors who felt successful and those who didn’t. From the beginning, I had always been hard on myself. I always thought about the decisions I made for every patient in detail, played them over and over in my head, and wondered what I could have done differently for each one. Whether or not their outcome was satisfactory, I’d go through my thought processes and actions, thinking about how I could transform myself for the better the next time around. How I could better myself and do better for them, while improving my skills, efficiency, knowledge base, and my interactions with each patient I treated.
There was a flaw in this pattern of perception, though. These reflections would always consist of weaknesses. Rarely would I accolade myself for my strengths, my medical victories, or my most meaningful connections with patients where I could see the genuine gratitude in their eyes. I began to see myself every day as a work in progress, rather than a product of my accomplishments.
I took a look around and thought about what gave my fellow residents and attendings, the most compassionate and satisfied physicians around me, the most substantial feeling of self-worth. Physicians with a deep sense of accomplishment do have self-awareness and grow from their mistakes, but choose to define themselves instead by their successes, not by their failures. They pride themselves in the virtue of their work and day to day victories. Medicine is a world in which the most sustainable vote of confidence we can ever get is from within ourselves. It’s a culture in which we face criticism but not nearly enough praise. We deal with the constant scrutiny, sometimes feeling like no more than just cogs in a machine, and often downplay what we do. But we remain successful if we inspire and applaud ourselves. We recognize the lives we’ve saved, the hearts we’ve touched, and know that the best is yet to come as we invest ourselves and practice further.
In the many years we’ll spend practicing medicine, we’re bound to make mistakes. Or decisions that we could’ve made better — those that would have led to better patient outcomes. Not by intent, or by negligence, but because medicine is an art and not every scenario is black or white. We should reflect on our encounters. Introspect can allow us to grow in the best way if we acknowledge not only our weaknesses but also our strengths, and if we don’t allow it to deplete us of our confidence. We sometimes have to encourage ourselves by remembering the times we’ve helped our patients and their families through the hardest moments. We’ve saved lives solely by trusting our skills and instinct, and by giving ourselves that inner vote of confidence. And by reminding ourselves every day of the successes we’ve had as physicians, and the journey of experiences we have yet to encounter.
Pooja N. Gidwani is an internal medicine resident.
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