Cats, Chainsaws, Cardiology

On July 1, I had the opportunity to speak to our new trainees gathered for their welcome to the Medical School. As I looked at them, I almost wished for a sort of virtual reality tag above each head. Something like, “Went to University of Wisconsin Medical School, loves cardiology; considering a surgical specialty, but is concerned she might have to give up beloved chainsaw sculpture hobby. High academic medicine potential, learns quickly, would benefit from strong mentoring. Likes cats.” Instead, these trainees—our advanced residents and fellows—are all a mystery. To a certain degree, we know what they are bringing us. We depend on their energy and talent, their fresh perspectives, and their ability to see a better way to do something because they haven’t “always done it that way.”

What we don’t know is what they need from us. We don’t know by looking at them who might benefit from a position of leadership or who needs a little extra support to thrive. We should be looking hard for these things, for these ways to ensure that we are providing the kind of environment that allows and inspires them to become the best people they can be.

We do know a little about them. It takes an extraordinary person to go into medicine because it is a vocation, not just a job. I say that with humility and with respect for who they are and who they will become. These trainees are disciplined, committed, and highly motivated to help others. They believe they can change the world for the better, and they have the intellect and heart to do it.

I offered them a few pieces of advice because even if you already know something, sometimes it is good to be reminded of things. These are things we would all do well to remember as educators as well.

  • You have two hemispheres in your brain, remember to use them both. Sometimes the new perspective you need comes from a direction you don’t expect: artistic, unscientific, nonlinear.
  • You will be defined more by how you work through difficulties than for the things you breeze through with ease. 
  • You are part of a larger community. In times of difficulty, remember that we are always here for you.
  • Changing the world is hard; hold onto your optimism.
  • Be kind to one another. It really does make a difference for all of us.

If everything goes according to plan, we will have these trainees with us for a while. Let’s all work to ensure that time is full of learning, exploration, and the joy of discovery. This is one of our greatest accomplishments and points of pride, seeing these people who come to us as students grow into the next generation of scientific and medical pathfinders and pioneers.

Please give them a warm welcome and let them know we're glad they’re here.