Nurture Humility

“You ask me if I have a God complex,” sneers Alec Baldwin, playing a heart surgeon in the film ‘Malice’. “Let me tell you something…. I AM God!”

He set the bar high for self-aggrandizing blasphemy!

Watch the clip here:

We’re constantly being told to be humble.

Even as a child, folks told us that arrogance is bad, even evil.

But here’s the thing.

The arrogance of ignorance is indeed a bad thing.

However there’s a form of ‘arrogance’ that stems from being really, really good at what you do.

And that’s not always undesirable.

Arrogance backed by competence is really confidence.

And that kind of confidence helps make you a better doctor.

I’ll go even further.

Without such ‘arrogance’, you’d even hesitate to do your job – because what you’re involved with every day as a medical doctor… messes with the natural order of things.

Your work intentionally interferes with powerful forces of Nature.

Flaws in development. Ravages of invisible germs. Effects of unknown carcinogens. Age-related changes. Conception and pregnancy.

All of these are targets of your efforts – to heal and save lives.

Imagine a surgeon picking up her scalpel, ready to operate on a birth defect, or a cancer, or a badly damaged organ… knowing that her intervention will alter her patient’s destiny forever.

Do a good job, and it will be fine.

Make a mistake, however, and it all ends right there.

How can she even proceed… without a confidence that borders on arrogance?

She can’t.

You can’t.

So why is this advice to practice humility even relevant?

Here’s why…

Many years ago on our daily morning rounds, twenty of us doctors crowded around a bed in the cardiac ICU at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

The tiny newborn was on her fourth post-operative day.

We still couldn’t get her off the ventilator. Several people offered opinions.

As one young lady began to speak, the ICU consultant cut in and presented his view.

Prof.Marc de Leval, who was the Director and Head of the program and a pioneer heart surgeon (he wrote the definitive textbook on congenital cardiac surgery…in the year I was born!) listened quietly.

Then he pointed to the junior doctor and said, “You had something to share?”

She was a final year undergraduate medical student, visiting for 2 weeks from Michigan, USA. Just before this, she had spent some time as an observer at the cardiac surgery unit there – and seen a similar case.

She explained what was done.

“Let’s try that,” said Professor.

Next morning, the baby was off the ventilator!

Only because the most experienced heart surgeon in U.K. had the humility to listen to a student – who hadn’t yet even graduated as a doctor – a child was now alive.

That’s the most powerful lesson I’ve ever had in the importance of humility.

By all means, be confident.

But never let that confidence destroy your humility.

I don’t care how good you are, how talented, skilled or experienced – you will make mistakes, create complications, and lose patients.

You will sometimes run into situations you cannot handle, and face problems you don’t know to solve.

Unless you are humble, you will not learn from those mistakes and experiences.

And without such learning, you cannot grow and improve as a doctor.

An over-confident doctor grows careless, irresponsible, reckless… and then, becomes dangerous.

An arrogant doctor doesn’t heed warning signs, or accept errors in judgment, or anticipate potential crises… and that is harmful to patients.

So stay humble.

And be watchful.

But also keep striving for competence – and confidence.

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 -

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