Things they didn’t teach in medical school: Part 21 – you can do more than look after patients

So I don’t really like the title I came up with, after all, looking after patients is pretty important. What the title refers to is the observation that medical training equips you for more than medical practice – although nobody teaches you that.

I haven’t quite reached the point of abandoning face-to-face patient care but increasingly I spend my time undertaking activities that might be considered influencing care rather than undertaking care.

It is often observed that many people with law degrees don’t end up being day-to-day lawyers. Well this probably applies to a lot of the core professions. Last week I ran into a basic scientist who now has a job as a research strategist and commercialisation advisor.

So what is the common theme?

Professional training really consists of two themes. One is largely around the technical knowledge relevant to the discipline – i.e. the law for lawyers, economics for economists, anatomy/physiology/pharmacology for doctors, etc, etc. The second is around problem solving. Professionals/experts fundamentally have the job of correctly identifying problems and questions and then trying to solve them. In medicine my job is to ‘diagnose’ the patient’s illness, prioritise the management problems and solve them.

Now, as I sit on hospital administrative committees and company boards, my job is the same. Identify the problem and find the solution.

This week an end came to an advisory committee that I have sat on for the last 6-7 years. The advice was around eHealth and electronic decision support. Whilst I do have some understanding and technical knowledge of these areas my real contribution to the group was to look at problems from a different perspective, to re-define the problems, to re-calibrate the discussions. This was also the role of my fellow committee members who were often drawn from different professions or different versions of my profession.

Some of my colleagues and peers make a complete jump and leave day-to-day medicine altogether to pursue apparently different careers. I’m pretty sure they are out there diagnosing problems and finding solutions.

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