Driving change in medicine

Author: Dr Mark Hohenberg, Chief Medical Officer at Curiious; Specialist physician (Geriatrician)

I was at a conference this past Saturday. As usual for Sydney it was sunny, warm and as per most conferences, the registration process was fluid and personable.

Then something changed… this wasn’t like any conference I had ever been to before. Every single attendee outwardly was incredibly excited to be there. During the talks, they were hanging on the every word of each speaker and panelist. This continued during discussions over coffees and teas. What was going on? Why was this conference so different?

Everyone was hanging on the every word of each speaker…

Well, it explored creative careers in medicine and featured a stellar lineup of individuals from firms in and outside of medical practice. The brainchild of Dr Amandeep Hansra and her team at Creative Careers in Medicine, the speakers all had one thing in common: an incredible drive and energy directed towards their passion in whichever field they have gone into. Many speakers had left clinical medicine and described their stories including the trials and tribulations the experienced on their journey. Most importantly, the speakers and panelists inspired…

Driving change in medicine is hard. We all know this. Most Health Services in the world move very slowly and adopt changing technology even slower (we still use pagers!?). Nearly every speaker spoke about how they have moved into a creative position as they wanted to effect some form of change. Along the way they picked up extra skills which helped them in their diversifying roles but the intrinsic skills that doctors learn at medical school and hone during clinical practice are not just relevant for working in creative fields, but essential. Dr Sarah Dalton highlighted that doctors possess many of these skills already: “You are more skillful than you know”. So why don’t more of us strive to effect change in medicine? Well it can be hard. As many speakers also highlighted, we feel an ‘imposter syndrome’, like we are not good enough to be advising or speaking on a set topic allied to clinical or medical practice.

Doctors can feel like imposters outside of their clinical domain.

Where does this self-doubt come from? Dr Marcus Tan gave us a hint with his description of the Japanese Concept of Ikigai, which is loosely similar to the French phrase of Raison d’être. As doctors, we may be feeling incomplete; we may have a passion and profession but less of a personal misson and vocation. Ikigai is a great philosphy to consider when building meaning into our work, as doctors can aim to be fulfilled with what we do and achieve on a level above just serving the patients we see each day.

So how do we effect change? Numerous speakers gave examples but the underlying message from the conference was a simple one: believe in yourself, your passion and work towards your dreams.

Doctors are good at diagnosing and treating patients but also have many other powerful transferable skills, for example in effective communication, critical thinking/ abstract reasoning and reflection. Sarah Dalton touched on some of these, often labelled as ‘soft skills’ and considered of less value in clinical medicine…

We are also dynamic individuals who have proven we can work hard (medical school and internships). Walt Disney sums up how doctors can use their skills pretty well:

So to effect change, we need to advocate for what we believe in, our passion and stand up for the changes needed. We need to support each other in the healthcare and political system to drive change. We need to strive to support examples like these, as well as developing our own methods of change within and outside of our health systems:

Experience The Pulse aims to bring the rapidly developing technology of Virtual and Augmented Reality to Medical Education and clinical applications such as for patients with dementia in nursing homes to experience opera at the Sydney Opera House or allow medical students & doctors to practice skills before seeing patients.

Rob Deeming from Billy aims to improve choice for seniors with worsening health and function. Technology such as described in this article may soon be available in Australia thanks to startups such as these.

Cancer aid aims to improve the patient journey for those afflicted by cancer, helping more than 12,000 patients in 24 countries.

In summary, for those in and outside of medicine who struggle to someones wonder why they do what you do, take a moment and reflect on where you have come from, where you are now and where you want to go. How can you drive change for good in medicine? How can you be a positive disruptor? As Benjamin Franklin once said:

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made; what’s a sundial in the shade?”

You can be the change that makes all the difference.

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