How to Be Successful: Be Prepared

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Most people probably know the Boy Scouts of America has the motto “Be Prepared”.  As an Eagle Scout, I obviously embraced this concept and have made numerous successful professional steps that can be partially credited to this motto.  It is similar to another saying I like, “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”  Let’s look at some examples, and then come up with some specific strategies to make sure you are prepared.

I had a case under anesthesia going to radiology the other day.  As we started to roll the patient away from the prep area, I spotted the laryngoscope we had used left on a tabletop.  I grabbed the laryngoscope because I make it a point to always be able to readily intubate a patient under my care.  Sure enough, when moving the patient to the radiology table, the endotracheal tube came out.  Having the laryngoscope right there, I rapidly reintubated the patient and we carried on with the case.  Could we have intubated the patient without the laryngoscope?  Probably, but you never know.  I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

When my wife and I travel, we often hit breweries and brewpubs along the way.  Many of these will fill growlers- refillable containers so you can enjoy their beer at home.  After not having growlers when we wanted to fill one, I took to just keeping one in the car when we travel.  Now, if we want a growler fill, we have one with us!  Chance favors the prepared.  We are prepared if we find a place by chance that has good beer.

In job negotiations, I had two contrasting experiences.  In one, I asked for a spousal hire and they didn’t make even the slightest effort at negotiating.  I was entirely unprepared for this outcome- I thought it was a reasonable request.  I was also given a compressed timeline to make a decision, so made a decision to take the job, something I may not have done if I were prepared.  In another, I asked for a spousal hire and knew exactly what I would do if I got one (accept the job) and if I didn’t get one (keep searching).  I was prepared and made a good decision.

So, what do you need to do in order to be prepared to maximize your professional success?  Here are some specific, concrete steps you can take.

  • Always have an updated CV.  Some people only update their CV yearly or, god forbid, when they apply for a new job.  No, you should always be prepared- update your CV any time you have something to add.  Get nominated as an officer in a club?  Add it on.  Submit a paper for publication?  Put it on.  Give a presentation?  Perform a review for a scientific journal?  On it goes.  This accomplishes two goals.  One, you won’t forget something potentially important and valuable for your CV.  Two, you will be ready to give your updated, accurate CV out for any professional opportunity which crops up.
  • Plan for a variety of outcomes.  What if you don’t get into vet school?  What if you don’t match for an internship?  What if the job to which you applied will pay you far less than you thought it would?  The more you consider the possible futures, the more prepared you will be, come what may.  This is different from _worrying_ about the possible outcomes.  Once you put your application in and do an interview, there’s nothing you can do to ALTER the outcome.  But if you PLAN for a variety of outcomes, you will be ready no matter what happens.  You will be able to act and decide more quickly (particularly valuable for The Scramble).  This will give you a leg up on any competition.
  • Bring materiel you may need.  If you’re going to an interview, make a checklist and bring things you may need.  Bring business cards and extra copies of your CV.  Bring extra clothing in case your primary outfit gets orange juice on it during the first event of the day.  Have enough cash to cover exigencies.  Bring a notebook to take notes.  Have your laptop so you can summarize your thoughts at the end of an interview day.

One caveat- you CAN over-prepare and you CAN over-plan and thus be paralyzed by indecision.  I don’t walk around the hospital with bottles of norepinephrine and vasopressin in my pocket for the one or two cases a year when I need those.  Those drugs are near at hand and I can get them relatively rapidly.  Perhaps a better way to say the Boy Scout motto would be, “be reasonably prepared”.

There are dozens- hundreds- of steps you can take to prepare yourself for an awesome career.  BUT YOU HAVE TO PLAN.  You can’t show up at the end of undergrad with a 2.0 GPA, not having taken biochemistry, and think, “Ah, I’ll just pop into vet school next year.”  The earlier you prepare, I believe the better off you will be.  Failing to plan is planning to fail.

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