Optimism and Determination

Things look bad. The world’s in a mess. All around there’s chaos and confusion.

Does that sound like a description of today?

Well, it always rings true… across history!

Charles Dickens opens his 1859 novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ with:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

So… it has ALWAYS been like this.

But as a young doctor, you need optimism and determination.

Not only to do your own work well, but also to communicate these feelings to your patients.

Healing takes not only medicine, but also mental energy.

A positive, hopeful attitude reinforces any treatment you offer patients.

And it’s especially when things look really, really bad that you have to be more optimistic and determined… for your patient’s sake!

As a resident in surgery, I was once in charge of treating a middle-aged woman with 28% burns.

Anything above 20% was touch and go. Most victims died. A lot could go wrong.

Still I was determined to do my best for her.

Twice a day, for as long as she was in hospital, I personally cleaned and dressed those burns. Even with opiates, she screamed in agony.

But persistence paid off.

Three weeks later, she walked out of the hospital, scarred but alive.

Another remarkable case was a police constable who accidentally shot himself with his service rifle.

Following an emergency left hemi-colectomy, his wound got infected. It resulted in a ‘burst abdomen’.

For six full months, my co-houseman and I painstakingly dressed the wound daily. And fought to nourish him and prevent other complications.

When he finally was discharged from hospital, the policeman had lost forty kilograms in weight… but he was alive!

Neither of them would have survived – without a doctor’s optimism and determination.

Think about it for a moment, and you’ll see why.

If you don’t believe a patient has a chance to survive, you’ll naturally be less involved in your care.

A bit less meticulous with a dressing. A little more casual in prescriptions. Somewhat more dismissive of complaints.

But if you are convinced that this patient will live if you try hard… then just as naturally, you’ll make your best effort to save that patient’s life!


A lot rides on your state of mind.

Your degree of optimism.

Your level of determination.

The nice thing about this is that – it’s a virtuous circle.

So, you give it your best shot and the patient has a good outcome…

Suddenly, your outlook on such cases changes.

You’ll find yourself thinking about the next case – with more optimism.

You’ll be even more determined to save the next patient’s life.

And so…

You will.

The reinforcement loop just keeps getting stronger and stronger.

Pretty soon, you’ll have an unbeatable belief system.

Every patient deserves your best effort.

So be optimistic.

And stay determined.

Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author - http://www.DrSivasubramanian.com

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