Urology Pearls: The secret to living a satisfying professional life

Shahar Madjar, MD

I asked myself what we can learn from each other. And in an attempt to answer the question, I told you about doctors who learned from the experience of NASCAR’s pit-stop teams, and from the insights of musicians playing in an orchestra. I even described the lessons I have learned, as a doctor, from a visit to Zingerman’s Deli. But what can you learn from the experience of good doctors?

I rummaged through the drawers of my memory and found several examples of good doctors: some of them were my mentors and some were my colleagues. While nobody is perfect, those doctors whom I revered shared a combination of several traits and habits that, I believe, are necessary for anyone interested in a satisfying, meaningful professional life. For this article, I created a composite character, Dr. Betsy Best, who embodies all that is good in the good doctors I met. Here is what you can learn from Dr. Betsy Best:

Dr. Best works hard: there is a reason why the work of doctors is often referred to as “the practice of medicine.” As in any other complex task, medicine requires investment in time and effort. You can’t just dabble in medicine and be good at it. To be good, you will need to practice. In his book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell formulated the “10,000-Hour Rule,” suggesting that the key to achieving expertise in any skill is a matter of practicing that skill, the correct way, for a total of 10,000 hours. A part-time doctor who takes frequent vacations at the French Riviera, and leaves his practice at 2 p.m. in order to play golf, would need much longer time to become an expert than a doctor who puts in more hours. Of course, being an extreme workaholic and killing yourself on the battlefields of medicine would serve no purpose. Some life-work balance is essential — but without an honest investment of time and effort, your chances to be good at medicine, or at any other field is slim. Talent helps too, but talent alone isn’t enough — you have to practice.

Dr. Best is constantly learning: First, Dr. Best learned from Hippocrates, the Greek doctor who is considered the father of medicine. Referring to medicine, Hippocrates said: “Art is long; Life is short; Opportunity is fleeting; and Experience is treacherous.” Dr. Best understands that in order to become, and to remain a good doctor, she should constantly learn. Because the Art of Medicine is so vast, the time so short, and the opportunity fleeting, she is constantly learning: in medical school and during her residency; in her office and in the operating room; in lecture halls at conferences, and alone at her desk reading the latest edition of the relevant textbook and medical journals. Because experience is treacherous, Dr. Best frequently examines what she had already learned — a patient whose disease did not follow the expected course, for example, is, for her, an invitation for self-examination, an opportunity to unlearn what she thought she knew to be true, and re-learn from her new experience.

Dr. Best is passionate about her profession: She finds meaning in her work. Without passion, how can she work hard and constantly study? And how can she treat her patients with care?

Dr. Best follows a medical version of the Golden Rule “love thy neighbor as thyself”: She treats her patient the way she, herself, would like to be treated. She puts the interest of her patient before her own interest: she listens to her patient attentively; she explains the nature of his disease; she reviews the treatment plan; she orders tests that are necessary (and not merely to avoid being sued for malpractice); she recommends surgery only when she truly believes that the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks. She treats her patient with respect and compassion.

Can these habits apply to any profession? To anybody? Could they work for a teacher, a nurse, an architect, an assembly-line worker, a volunteer at a nonprofit organization, a clerk, a comedian, a CEO? The answer to this question lies, I believe, in understanding the nature of what we do at work: We work for others! The teacher for her students, the architect for the future occupants of the buildings he designs, the CEO for his customers, employees, shareholders, and yes, the doctor for his patients. The habits of practice, constant learning, passion for the work we do and a life of treating others the way we would like to be treated — these are all keys to serving others well, and to living a satisfying, meaningful professional life.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist working in several locations in the Upper Peninsula. Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com or at DrMadjar.com.