Dr. Waitt and I worked together at the same institution and we met when, on her first day on the job, she jumped in to help with the anesthesia OSCE. She is also a WSU grad and a terrific person with whom to work. She has insight into the equine veterinary world which I don’t have which she shares during this episode.
I spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for my interview for a department chair position. My talk was about the psychology of motivation, as I believe that is a core principle to understand when leading people. I focused on Self-Determination Theory, which states that people are internally motivated by autonomy, competence, and relatedness with others. When discussing the competence domain, I wanted to try and express a concept I had been living my whole life, manifested most obviously in my martial arts training.
When you begin training in martial arts, regardless of your age or athleticism, you begin as a white belt. No matter what talents you bring to martial arts, you start at the beginning because you don’t know about about this specific skill. As you learn, you progress through clearly delineated ranks. Do this skill correctly, then earn this rank. It makes skill progression visible and tangible.
I have been training in martial arts since I was 12, so this process was largely invisible to me- it was just a way of life. OBVIOUSLY, if you practice more, you get better at the skill. That is what a growth mindset gets you. But, to get really good, you need to not only train. You need to identify what you need to improve, work on improving it, then evaluate your performance and improvement. This can be conceptualized in the plan-do-act-check cycle, which is a component of Kaizen.
Kaizen means “good improvement” and describes a cycle of continuous improvement. The Toyota Corporation was an early adopter of Kaizen, and the principle became more widespread and accepted in the past few decades. Although originally used in industrial processes, the principle can be applied to any human pursuit. Applying Kaizen speaks to the competence domain of Self-Determination: you get better at something, which increases your competence, which makes you want to do it more.
What can you do to continue to improve in life? Here are some suggestions:
1) Learn a skill. “I’m already learning a skill, Vetducator- how to be a vet! (or a better vet)” Yes, but you can learn other skills, too. I prefer movement-related ones like dancing and martial arts, but maybe you like learning coding, or home repair/maintenance, or cat training. This is valuable because you never know when learning something new will help you in another area, it keeps your mind sharp, and it keeps you in the HABIT of learning new things. Find something FUN to learn.
2) Read a book. “I am reading so many books already for school, Vetducator!” Yes, but you need to develop non-veterinary skills and knowledge, too. I prefer non-fiction books for this development, but fiction books can expand your vocabulary and provide other improvements. I have been on a recent kick reading books about teaching, so I get to expand my knowledge of teaching.
3) Practice social skills. If you’re already an adroit, socially-competent person, you can skip this. For the other 99% of us, you can ALWAYS practice interacting better with other humans. And I don’t mean acting more extroverted, bouncy, and outgoing. Maybe your focus is you need to listen more, maybe you need to think about treating people with more respect, maybe you want to smile more. I think everyone can improve on this.
4) Diet and exercise. This is a common trope today, but it is nonetheless useful. Don’t know how to cook a vegetarian meal? Practice. Not good at making bread? Practice. Can only do one pull up? Practice. Keep getting better, even if it is incremental.
This principle applies to being a better student/intern/resident/faculty member because you want to be the best one of those you can be. The ‘best’ will look different depending on the individual, but the principle is to be constantly improving. You don’t need to push yourself every single day (unless you enjoy that!). But you should always be looking at how you can improve. Don’t just tread water. If you want to be successful, if you want to be a +1, you need continuous improvement.
If you want to get better, it’s not enough to just want it and hope it comes to you. You need to make efforts and you will achieve. Don’t stop.
Show up. That’s it. End of blog post. You can believe me and stop reading or you can read on if you need more convincing.
Living in the South is strange in so many ways. One which you would not expect is the approach service workers (plumbers, electricians, roofers, contractors, etc.) take to showing up. That is, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Not just being late- that’s any service worker. You make an appointment, and they never show or call to reschedule. This is distinctly different than in other parts of the country in my experience. It seems like a simple arrangement- you show up to do a job, I give you money. Don’t you like money? Apparently, laborers in the South do not. Every now and then you find one who actually shows up, and they get all my business and my friends’ business. Until they also eventually start to not show up. It’s a weird way to run a business, but this was a huge sign I had of how important it is to show up.
Teaching martial arts for 20 years, I see this constantly. Who are the black belts? The best students? The most competent, the stellar athletes? Not at all. The black belts are the students who showed up. They came to class and kept coming to class, slowly learning and progressing. The most amazingly athletic students- they were aiming to be a +1– they fell off because they actually had to apply themselves to progress rather than rely on their raw talent. The slow, steady, quietly competent and attentive students were the ones who became terrific martial artists. They showed up.
The best vet student, intern, resident, or faculty isn’t necessarily the smartest. Smartness helps, as does wisdom, but to be excellent you first need to show up. If you’re a student, be there before anyone else on your team and leave after everyone else on your team. Offer to take extra on-call responsibilities. Study when you get home. One vet student with whom I worked answered a call to participate in a research project. She was so capable and engaged that she became integral to other projects, and now she has her name on three published research articles. Those who put the time in, get the rewards.
This goes all the way up. The most productive faculty aren’t necessarily the smartest or the most ruthless. I know some faculty members who never come into their office when they are off clinic duty. They’re fine faculty members, but they won’t ever be amazing until they start showing up.
We’ve talked before about how to avoid being a -1: aim for zero. Here is where we start to see how you can go from a zero to a +1. Start by being quietly competent. Then show up. The world is run by those who show up.
Dr. Diehl and I worked together at the same institution and enjoyed discussing and engaging in research. Since I left, we have continued to work together and have some great collaborations. Dr. Diehl talks about the unique circumstances of finding and obtaining an ophthalmology residency as well as what she looks for in candidates and how she likes to help students be successful.
According to Susan Cain in her book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,’ before the turn of the 20th century, our country had a culture of character. You were trusted and people did business with you on the basis of your integrity. Around the turn of the century, though, the culture began to change to the culture of personality. Everyone should read this book, since it’s incredible. Extroverts should read it so they understand the introverts, and introverts should read it so they understand themselves. Until you can, let’s talk about how to successfully be an introvert in this day and age.
Fortunately, you have done well with your chosen career. Many people enter veterinary medicine believing- incorrectly- that they get to work with animals more than people. So it seems the profession may select for more introverts than, say, business. This means there are more of Your People around, which will make things easier. You don’t have to explain as often why you don’t want to go out after a hard week of studying and test taking. You can spend time with your small collection of close friends without much pressure to do more. Not everyone is an introvert, but it’s not hard to find them in vetmed.
I personally think introverts have an easier time with my first rule: Aim for Zero. Introverts take time to observe before acting, and deliberate, and therefore tend to make more thoughtful actions. It seems that extroverts are the ones who may try to put themselves out there attempting to be a +1 and fail miserably. I personally prefer people who are quietly competent, and this seems easier for an introvert than an extrovert.
On the other hand, it’s also important to show up and smile, which may be harder for introverts. So you may need to do something outside your comfort zone. Fortunately, this is good, because it forces you to get better at something which is difficult: a key concept embraced in Kaizen. If it’s hard for you to go socialize with people, then work on this. Develop it like any skill, and it will pay strong dividends for you.
Give yourself permission to be an introvert. If you are at a social function and you are Just Done, feel free to ghost. Push yourself a bit, but in measured amounts. Give yourself time to recharge. If you want to have quiet time to read at lunch, find a little nook on the top floor where nobody goes and curl up with your book.
Although introversion and social awkwardness and anxiety and shyness are not synonymous, they often co-exist. If you are socially awkward, that is just fine, PARTICULARLY for academic veterinary medicine! You don’t have to be the most flamboyant, expressive, bubbly person. None of the suggestions I give in the How to be Successful series hinge on being an extrovert. Because you don’t have to be sociable. You DO have to be pleasant to work with and hard working, but quiet people can do this easily.
Academic veterinary medicine is a great place for an introvert. You can (generally) set your own schedule and decide how much or little you want to interact with people. Yes, you do need to teach, but with practice you will get better and more comfortable. You can engage in highly detailed and cerebral pursuits. You can lock your office door or go for a walk to recharge. If you’re an introvert, seriously consider a career in academia. It’s pretty great.
I don’t want to write this blog post. I don’t feel like I should have to. It’s common sense, isn’t it? It’s a waste of data to send this through the interwebs. Unfortunately, I have experienced veterinary externs who made a damn fool of themselves. They besmirched the reputation of their home institution, irritated colleagues and faculty, and sank any hope of getting a letter of recommendation or being ranked at the institution. So, since I have seen it, I am here to help. If you are an RFHB, you may go to the next post. If not, here’s how to avoid making a damn fool of yourself on externship.
1) You are a guest. Would you go to someone’s house and denigrate the way they load their dishwasher? “Man, they’ll never get clean if you do it like that!” Don’t insult your host school in any way. Don’t talk down about their students or their faculty or their processes. You may make a polite remark like, “Oh, how come you do it like that?” or “Oh, why do you do that” or “Oh, what was your rationale for deciding to do it that way?” if it reflects a genuine interest to learn. But just because they do things differently doesn’t mean they’re bad. Try to see the good in the differences. Heck, I learned how to place coccygeal art lines at CSU during a 3-week externship which I would have never learned otherwise. Be open-minded.
2) Learn the system. There is always a painful learning curve the first week, but pay attention and try hard to figure it out. If you work at it, you will be more effective by the second week. You may not know where the Q-tips are, but at least you can fill out a medical record and find ICU.
3) Show up. Set two alarm clocks if you have to. A student at their home institution may get a one-off if they miss a day or show up late. You don’t have a whole year to impress these people, you have 2-4 weeks. A single day of a bad showing represents up to 10% of the experience these people will have with you. Make sure you know the route to the hospital and budget plenty of time in the event of an accident or road closure.
4) Work hard. Come in early, stay late, don’t complain. You are representing your home school as well as yourself. You don’t want anyone to have the slightest inkling that your home school trains slackers. Represent your home school with honor.
5) Smile. Be pleasant. Be engaged. Ask polite questions. Be helpful. Be positive. It’s only for 2-4 weeks. Even if you are not by nature a particularly outgoing person, you can still appear happy to be there. Because you SHOULD be happy to be there. You’re in god-damned-vet-school, how amazing is THAT?!? And this place had the good grace to accept you in as a guest! That is pretty amazing.
6) Treat everyone with respect, especially the technicians. Obviously, this is true at your home school, but is even more important when you are an extern. Technicians are amazing; be sure to treat them with the utmost esteem.
7) Be appreciative. Make sure to thank your colleagues and mentors for the experience. If you had a particularly good connection or may be interested in a letter of recommendation, a follow-up thank you card may not come amiss. In particular, thank the technicians.
That’s it. It seems simple, doesn’t it? It seems like it shouldn’t need to be said. But believe me when I say this: it DOES need to be said. And YOU may be the one to whom it needs to be said.
Dr. Patterson was my supervisor at one of my academic positions, and she was a very inspiring, positive, wonderful boss. She has a massive wealth of experience in academic veterinary medicine and mentoring students and faculty. She is compassionate and will also tell you what you Need To Hear in a positive way to make you a better veterinarian. Dr. Patterson talks about raising a family during training, how to progress successfully through an academic career, and what is great about internal medicine.
Links to topics brought up in this episode:
Dr. K, the host of Realize.VET, did an interview with me recently and got it posted quickly! You can find it at the link below. We talk about all sorts of topics I think would be helpful for you on your path through veterinary medicine. Check it out!
We were flying home this weekend and saw a guy in first class who wasn’t exactly bad; he just acted entitled. The steward had to ask him twice to put his computer away. On landing, the steward had to tell him to buckle his seatbelt. Before takeoff, the steward was asking everyone loudly about a backpack and no one answered; it turned out it was this guy’s pack and he was just ignoring the steward. He drummed his fingers loudly and hummed, disrupting other passengers. It’s possible he has never flown before and doesn’t know normal air travel etiquette, but I think it’s more likely that he just feels entitled.
I believe a feeling of entitlement is the antithesis of being appreciative. When we fly, we realize what a goddamn miracle it is. We are hurtling through space at incredible speeds with remarkable comfort and luxury. We obey all the rules and try not to disturb the attendants at all. We appreciate how amazing the experience is and want to be Low Maintenance. This sense of appreciation is key to a happy life and personal relationships, but it is also key to being an excellent student/intern/resident/faculty member.
Do you appreciate the technical staff? I read a letter of recommendation recently where the writer pointed out that the candidate regularly thanked the technicians and the techs loved working with this applicant. Holy crap, this student appreciated the technical staff to the point where a faculty member noticed? That stands out to me as an evaluator. That tells me this person cares about other people and appreciates them. This will translate into greater success for them in all professional paths, so of course I want to recruit this person! They will be an awesome resident and great specialist, spreading positivity where they go and enhancing the reputation of our program.
Do you appreciate your mentors? They spend lots of time helping you, training you, and giving you advice. Hopefully, you express some thanks for what they give to you.
Do you appreciate your peers? Your students? Everyone around you in the veterinary world is working together as a team. All it takes is a quick “thanks”. If someone went out of their way or they did a great job that day, finding them and saying, “Thank you, Sean, for rocking out the cases today!” It’s genuine, it makes people feel good, it makes you feel good, it builds positive relationships, and it makes people enjoy their work.
If you can be someone who brings positivity, and not negativity, to work, you are bringing excellent value to that program. If you want to be recognized as a great student, intern, resident, or faculty member, be appreciative. You don’t have to be happy all the time, or bow and scrape to anyone. But if you give a genuine word of thanks now and again, it will work wonders for your career. Do you remember a time when someone sincerely thanked you? How did that make you feel? Share in the comments!
A while ago, I posted this question on my Facebook wall: “Is answering emails promptly a requirement for white collar work?” My professional friends responded with a resounding YES. “It is, and those who don’t make everything harder for everyone else.” In your endless quest to aim for zero, this is an easy one. Not answering email makes you a clear -1 in professional realms, including veterinary medicine.
Getting an email and not answering it is almost exactly like being late to a meeting where your presence is required. What you are saying, loudly and clearly, is this: “My time is more valuable than your time.” You may not INTEND to say that. But that’s what you are actually saying with your actions. I don’t know why and, you know what, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter why. The end result is me feeling about this small.
I understand there can be an overwhelming flood of emails coming in, all needing attention. There are a variety of systems for handling them. Ignoring them is not an option if you want to be seen as a professional. Here’s how I handle them, but YMMV.
First, when I get an email, I decide whether it needs to be deleted. I get a lot of these that aren’t spam per se, just not relevant to me right then. If I don’t care about it and don’t imagine needing it, it gets deleted. (This baffles my best friend, who insists I should just archive it, but if I can’t imagine ever needing it, wouldn’t it be better to remove that data from my storage? I think so.)
Next, is it an email which can be answered quickly and in a sentence or two? Scheduling events are like that for me. These can be quickly bounced back to the sender with my availability. Others are quick replies like “Thanks” and the like. These are my favorite types of emails. Requests for working with me from this blog also fall under this heading. They get dealt with within the hour or, if I am busy on clinics, that day.
Third, if it’s not an email which can be answered quickly, how much cognitive energy is it going to take to handle? Is it a request to run statistics on a paper with which I have passing familiarity? That will be an entire afternoon project. I generally divide these into two categories: do in under a week or put off until close to deadline. If under a week, I tend to do the more cognitively simple tasks sooner. In either event, I always reply to the email promptly (unless it was automated, as with a journal decision on a submitted manuscript).
Replying to email is just one aspect of being reliable. And hoo boy, if you can get a reputation for being reliable vs. being unreliable, go for reliable. You will get better recommendations, people will want to work with you more, and your career will progress more positively. You must respond to emails in a timely fashion to be considered a professional.
So now I am genuinely curious: why don’t you respond to emails promptly?