How to Be Successful: Accept Feedback

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I was working with a student recently and I gave them some feedback along the lines of, “Please make sure to pay attention to detail and make sure everything is ready for your case.”  I could tell, as I was speaking to them, that their eyes were glazing over.  I like to think I am reasonably competent at giving effective feedback, but it’s possible I wasn’t saying it correctly.  Nonetheless, the next case that the student did, they still didn’t have good attention to detail and weren’t ready for their case.  

I suspect that the student wasn’t really listening when I was trying to help them. Imagine how that makes me feel?  The student was ignoring me- maybe they thought I didn’t know anything.  Maybe they thought they knew better than I did.  Obviously, that’s frustrating for me as an educator.  So here’s the tip: be willing to accept feedback.

I direct this not only at students but EVERYONE.  I learn things all the time.  I learned the word “hyporexia” a few months ago.  How was this NOT a part of my lexicon from senior year of vet school?!?  I learned “gossypiboma” two weeks ago!  How cool is that?  The students were tossing this word around and I paused and said, “Wait, what?  What word are you using?”  My resident informed me it was based on the Latin for cotton.

And, obviously, faculty who don’t integrate feedback from their students end up being not very good educators.  In vet school, we had one class which was terrible. We talked with those in the higher classes and they all said it was terrible when they did the class and it had always been that way.  How is that possible?  Surely the students give feedback which the professor got.  But the professor apparently didn’t act on that feedback.  So the class continued to be terrible.

So, too, will you continue to not improve if you don’t accept feedback.  It can be difficult to hear what you need to improve on.  But feedback isn’t ONLY developmental.  Good feedback also tells you what you should KEEP DOING.  It’s easy for us to downplay positive comments. 

Some people deride the “feedback sandwich” because the listener feels that the positive comments are just buttering them up to be receptive to the developmental comments. But “What went well” is at least as important as what can you do “Even better yet”.  For example, if my feedback on a catheter placement is, “Good job on the angle.  Once you get the catheter in, hold the stilet still and ONLY move the catheter.”  If the student doesn’t listen to the first part and, on their next attempt, changes the angle, then they may not be successful.

For the “even better yet” feedback, listen sincerely and honestly.  Be receptive and open to improvement.  This requires a degree of humility and also a desire to improve.  But we should ALL want to improve, shouldn’t we?  Competence is a fundamental motivator of human behavior.  Look upon every piece of feedback as a gift.  This person is taking time out of their busy day to HELP YOU.  How amazing is that?

Sometimes you aren’t in a frame of mind to take feedback.  That’s fine.  Try to listen attentively and put it away for later.  At the end of a long day, or after a stressful situation, it can be difficult and stressful to hear what you could have improved.  Try not to be resistant.  Listen and process it later.

Feedback is essential to learning.  There is also internalized self-corrective feedback which is absolutely valuable.  Feedback from others is also essential for improvement.  Learn what you can from whom you can.  I believe it will make you a better, happier person.  AND you’ll be a more competent veterinarian, an easy-to-teach student, and a person others want to work with.

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