At a recent interview for an office manager, I asked a candidate to share with us the best piece of advice she had ever received. A strong, articulate candidate in every other regard, she was stumped. I was surprised. Really? We weren’t looking for the secret to life. A little homespun bromide would have been fine.
Later, it got me thinking. What has been the best piece of clinical or professional advice I have received? And with that background, allow me to introduce my residency department chairman, Dr. Corman.
A pediatric infectious disease specialist by training, Dr. Corman could be an imposing physical presence. He was tall and trim, with rough gray hair. At morning report, he could be relied upon to ask about the antibiotic selection made by the admitting floor team the night before. “Mmmmmmmmm,” he would intone, “that wouldn’t have been my first choice.” He was easy to roast at the conclusion of each year.
However, he also shared with us some good pearls about life. From Dr. Corman’s lips to my blog…
“Don’t get used to it.”
At a department picnic, Dr. Corman asked me what my plans were following residency (and the transition to an attending’s salary). Knowing that my wife would complete an infectious disease fellowship before too long (same salary adjustment), he was essentially asking about our plans were for work-life balance with a more favorable revenue stream. When I told him of my wife’s desire to work part time and our plans to have a second child, he said this. “Don’t get used to it.”
His point was that newly minted residency graduates suddenly go from earning nearly nothing for a lot of hours of work to earning a respectable something for fewer hours. After years of delayed gratification, there is a tremendous temptation to “splurge” a little. “Don’t get used to the money that you never had as a resident,” he explained further. “Live well but smartly, and stay within your means.”
When I told him that we still had some school loans, he smiled. “School loans are good.” Nice guy.
“Be careful what you wear.”
Leading up to our first Halloween as pediatric residents, my classmates and I started to think about options. One of us asked what the rules were, especially in light of the fact that our residency took place in an Air Force hospital.
“Be careful what you wear,” intoned Dr. Corman. “After all, do you really want to run a code dressed as Dracula, or tell a family that their child has leukemia while in a Martian getup?”
From that day forward, I have been mindful of my clinical appearance, especially around holidays. This is not to say that I wear boring clothes, and this is not intended to be a veiled criticism of any clinician who chooses to express themselves in their choice of attire. It is merely an acknowledgment that in our line of work, where we can face anything, that anything can happen. Dress for anything.
For my daily attire, I limit my expression to outrageous socks. Taking a page from my volleyball playing daughter, the socks can be downright zany. Zebra stripes. Peace signs. Polka dots atop argyle patterns in lime and hot pink. Crazy? Yes. But also discrete.
During holidays, I don a seasonal tie (plus the socks). The wisdom of Dr. Corman, showing up in my sock drawer. Probably not what he had in mind, either.
“You don’t want to be the first person or the last person to get a particular vaccine.”
Coming from an infectious disease guy, this has some credibility. His point was twofold. For one, a new vaccine has undergone testing on tens of thousands of patients. However, in the event a particular vaccine has a side effect incidence of 1 in a million, this information may not come to light until the post release phase. His thinking was to permit details come to light before wholeheartedly embracing the vaccine.
On the flip side, what is it about a vaccine that makes it no longer necessary? Could it be that circumstances surrounding the vaccine and the condition for which the vaccine was developed have changed? Perhaps the benefits of its administration no longer outweigh the downsides associated with the vaccine. Remember the smallpox vaccine?
Consider the HPV vaccine. Five years ago, parents would refuse “because it was too new.” In response, I had nothing. As of June 2012, over 46 million doses have been administered in the United States. We are way past the point of “being the first.” (By the way, between 2006 and 2010, the infection rate with the cancer causing strains among girls ages 14 to 19 has dropped from 7.2 percent to 3.6 percent.)
So, there you have it. Some of the best professional advice I have received. Profound? Not especially. But applicable.