Learn to forge ahead with feedback in medicine

A successful career in medicine means learning how to forge ahead with feedback and not allow it to stop you in your tracks.  For some doctors, this is a challenge.  Feedback feels bad. It’s perceived as negative, not being good enough.  We’re exposed to it and its negative impact quite early on the journey as medical students. Medical school rankings are feedback that begs the question, “Am I doing as well as my peers?” This breeds comparison and competition.

In the medical profession, feedback has a bad reputation.  Preceptors and mentors agonize over giving feedback.  The medical student dreads having his or her performance evaluated by the residents and attending physician. The resident becomes resentful after working diligently on the overnight shift only to discover that their presentation at morning report was deemed substandard.  And attending physicians who have successfully navigated and endured the early years of evaluation and feedback are less receptive to it once they arrive at the top.

Learning how to actively seek feedback is one of the tasks of a mindful and successful physician. The physician who is in learning mode understands feedback reveals the next avenue of growth personally and professionally.  When early career experiences have shaken your confidence in seeking feedback without the right support systems can be disastrous.

Maybe you can relate?

Typically instead of focusing on what can be learned from feedback, we get bogged down with the mental and emotional clutter that feedback elicits.

It triggers the old stories. Doctors use it as more evidence that contributes to the Imposter Syndrome.

Feedback triggers the limiting beliefs that you are telling yourself every time you see a new patient and are unsure of the diagnosis. It’s when you shy away from calling a consult because you don’t want a colleague to think you don’t know the answer.  It’s when you beat yourself up because you think you should know it, but instead, you have to look it up.

Your heart and mind are cluttered with the negative feedback, criticism, and judgment you received years ago from attending physicians and preceptors. Instead of focusing on the learning and getting excited about what’s ahead, you’re defensive and stuck, and it’s reflected in your energy most days.

It blocks the ability to step into the right opportunity to move to your next level because you doubt yourself. You use the misinformation from feedback to keep from forging ahead.

Putting it into practice: an approach to feedback

1. Identity the preceptor or supervisor who will give you constructive feedback.

2. Set clear expectations with an initial 5-minute discussion about your role and responsibilities on the team.

3. Consider adding your own milestones to track as well. What areas can you develop that will boost your confidence and increase your level of expertise?

4. Set regular intervals to track your progress.

5. Create a corrective action plan.

6. Take the new action.

7. Track your progress.

With this system, physicians position themselves as proactive leaders.  The energy shifts, as doctors feel empowered to invest in their professional development.

Feedback from a physician who used this system was, “My supervisor was impressed with the initiative I took.”

Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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