Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Soft skills I wish I learned in school

After 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and now 6 years since my medical school and completing my residency, there are certain essential skills that I wish I learned during school.

This was inspired by a advise from one of my mentors who once told me, "everything is a process". He expounded further to tell me that to achieve any goal, there is a series of steps which I have to figure out. To get into college, for example, you have to do well on your SAT, get good grades, complete prerequisites and be "well-rounded". Similarly, to get into medical school, you need to do well on your MCAT, get good GPA, do scholarly projects (i.e. research), etc.  For any specific path in life, there is a similar process. 

Now, how do you figure out the process? This is important because the people who figures this out succeed.

  1. Mentorship: I was listening to a webinar about females in medicine and the speaker said "find a female mentor who will teach you how she succeeded and a male mentor to help you up the ladder".
    • Purpose of mentors:  to teach you the process! They figured it out and this is the easiest way to learn how. 
    • How to you approach a mentor:  ask open ended questions.
      • How did you decide on this career?
      • What are important skills to have?
    • How to find a mentor:
      • most of the time, people closest to us (family, friends, colleagues) can serve as mentors.
      • sometimes, you need something more (i.e. career specific). In these cases, If find that meeting people at conferences can be a huge help. 
    • Different types of mentors:
      • professional mentors
      • personal mentors
    • Different stages of mentorship:
      • there are different mentors for different stages and aspects of our lives
      • most of it is just going with your gut instinct and the flow.
  •  Presentation skills: I  underestimated how critical this skill was.
    • Why is this important?   Being able to present a subject is the best way to demonstrate your skill and show your competence and capability. That's how important these skills are. (Certainly, you have to know what you're talking about.) You may be the best researcher, but if you cannot present, then it's very difficult to succeed. 
    • How do you learn how to present?  
      • I was lucky because my former professor asked me to teach a medical school course so these lectures allow me to master my stage presence. But, I have also gave many presentations at the meetings. 
      • You have to start somewhere. It was very uncomfortable for me when I first started out. Unfortunately, my first presentation was during my 4th year medical school! I had to give a talk on  prostate carcinoma in front of the urology faculty. I practiced 1000x times and when I gave it, I spoke 100 miles / hour, my voice was shaking and my hands were sweating. It was awful! 
      • Tips: 
        • Propranol. A mentor of mine told me about this. It's a prescription drug used to treat high blood pressure. But, it nicks the sympathetic response (which causes the stage fright such as sweating, shaking, etc). Studies have also shown that this helps people perform better during exams as well. This was one the tricks that really helped me advanced my presentation skill. Once you have your skills down, you don't need this anymore.
        • Practice: Nothing replaces practice so volunteer when opportunities arise.
  • Communication
    • Problem: when I finished school, I mastered the art of studying. But, this had no real-life practical value. Good grades get you through school but effective communication get you through life.
    • Tips
      • Very few things in life is urgent. I used to rush to make it to everything on time and stressed out. But, in the global picture, these small things don't matter as much. Don't be late all the time but being late occasionally is normal and it's okay. Communicate that to people and most understand.
      • Pay attention and actively listen when people talk. It's easy to write off people and what they say especially when you don't give them credibility. But, in my personal experience, listening to people's (especially your colleagues and patients) needs is what helps you understand what's really important and how to tailor your services to meet those needs. As a radiology resident, I can certainly tell my referring providers what I see on the image, but I am a lot more valuable if I can tell them how my knowledge can change what they do.
      • Connect and re-direct. I was listening to an audio-book called Whole Brain Child which teaches parents how to help their children grow. The idea is to acknowledge how others are feeling at the moment because it's real and those needs must be recognized. I often forget this when I am angry or frustrated and may often say or do things without filtering my words or actions. However, this leads to the opposite reaction of what I would want because individuals will back lash. Instead, one needs to acknowledge those feelings and needs and connect with the others. Then, once understood, you can re-direct them.
  • Finance
    • Problem: as a student in the medical track, I missed out on many of the important skills my friends in business track learned. Understanding investments is important for the future and early you start investing, the better off you are.
    • Tip:
      • a family friend gave me an audio book by Ric Edelson in medical school. This is a good start to figuring out the financial possibilities. But, you can search on Amazon and find many other resources.
      • Roth-IRA: this is a post-tax IRA and the best possible investment anyone can make. You can contribute up to $5000/year as soon as you start working (high school, college, etc). It's easy to create an account
        • Open an account with any of the large investor sites. I use Vanguard
        • Link your checking account to transfer funds.
        • Choose an investment profile. If you start early, you can invest in high risk funds. The easiest is to pick S&P500 (the whole stock market) which is diverse.
        • Personally, I don't play individual stocks ever.
  • Comment:
    • Comment: "you know, the subject on mentorship has already tickled me a bit. i have tons of mentors in my comfort zone (people i just ask for help or actively say, 'hey, i would like your opinion on this'), but i have never asked a stranger or someone i wasn't working w/ to mentor me.  people have written about that concept before many times but it always feels unnatural to me when i talk to strangers at a conference. i wonder what other people's experiences are like, because i'm not exactly the shyest person around either."
    • Response:  It does feel unnatural to approach someone randomly at conference. But, conferences are the perfect opportunity to meet people. For example, I was a society meeting and randomly sat next to someone during dinner. I ended up doing research with this individual and published 2 papers. At another dinner, I was randomly talking to the person next to me, who turned out to be the former chair of a department. Later, he shared certain advice which significantly impacted what I did. At another meeting, I signed up for a tennis tournament and fast forward 4 years, my partner became the editor of a well known journal and he got me involved in a resident advocacy group. So, I think the key is to attend conferences/meetings which are likely to have people who share your career interests, so you increase your chances of striking something when you approach / bump into them. people have written about that concept before many times but it always feels unnatural to me when i talk to strangers at a conference. i wonder what other people's experiences are like, because i'm not exactly the shyest person around either

No comments:

Post a Comment