STEP 1: Shut up and listen
STEP 2: Embrace your mistakes
STEP 3: Be consistent
STEP 4: Stay Humble
The good ole taste of humble pie never gets old.
I remember graduating from physical therapy school with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. I was ready to change the world and the people in it. I started my first job and all of my patients were reportedly getting better. I had it all figured out… or at least I thought I did. It was like the feeling of mastering your grandmother’s lasagna recipe that you devoured as a kid. It wasn’t until my first weekend at one of the residency classes I was “enlightened” with this delicacy we call, humble pie. At this point in my career, I had only been practicing for 2-3 months. In retrospect, I believe my sense of confidence may have stemmed from being protected from difficult cases by my boss who had been a PT for 10 years. This residency module in particular was focused on the lumbar spine and was taught by the residency director who was a PT with 25 years of experience. I sat there with my notepad blown away by her insight to treatment of an area I had very well oversimplified. She posed questions of clinical reasoning and foundational knowledge I couldn’t seem to google search quickly enough and yet still mentioned feelings of uncertainty herself. I felt ashamed to have taken my profession for granted. I had no fancy silverware or elaborate table setup, but that was my first serving of this eminent dessert as a physical therapist.
What do you mean, you don’t know?
Myth: admitting you don’t know something is a sign of weakness. We are trained in academia to always have an answer. Whether a short answer or multiple choice, no question could go unanswered. We are all too familiar with the term “take an educated guess”. What impact does this have on our patients who are relying on us to lead them through their times of helplessness? I’ll never forget hearing Ann Porter Hoke flat out say the words, “that’s a good question, I don’t know.” This is a woman who was trained by the “father of orthopedic medicine” himself, James Cyriax. I was baffled!! My sense of disbelief was not in that she did not know the answer, but in that she had the audacity to admit it. I may not be the smartest fellow in the room, but I was starting to connect the dots. In the two instances provided thus far, I had the utmost admiration for both therapists and there was a lesson I learned. There is humility in admitting you don’t know something to those who have placed you on a pedestal and it’s even more courageous to display this type of wisdom consistently.
Not really into pies? Too bad!!!
The moment you accept you will not be perfect all of the time is the moment you will begin your growth as a person and a clinician. This journey of perfection does not exist. What works today will somehow be discredited 10 or 15 years from now and we will all have to admit that we could have been better. This does not negate our intentions nor our efforts in making a change. The humble clinician will never develop shoulder pain from a repetitive injury such as patting themselves on the back or reaching up to stroke their ego. They will instead appreciate changes that are for the good and take on this challenge we call lifelong learning. These are the clinicians that empower students and new grads that are up and coming to take the profession by the horns and help lead the way. Keep grandma proud knowing that she can trust her closely held list of recipes with you as she begins to relinquish her time in the kitchen to enjoy the harvest of the seeds she faithfully planted.