I am a first year medical student who has come to this point in my life via a different path compared to most other medical students. As a college and high school basketball coach for eight years, I learned to study performance as if it were a science. The most interesting part of athletic coaching to me was not who could develop the most complex or innovative strategy, but who could get their individual players to execute their roles within the team strategy as close to perfection as possible. I am coming into medical school from a background of studying players to learn how to help them perform to their highest capability.
Understanding how to assist individuals to reach their capacity translates to medicine, and to every other field. The problem that I find interesting is not how to find new information, but how to use the existing information better. As a coach, my job was to find new ways to help each athlete get to a place where he does his job flawlessly. As a student, my day is now currently filled with gathering information. There is so much to learn, I feel as though I may never quite grasp things with as much detail as I would like. But, I know eventually I will be as prepared as I need to be - just as those before me have been. So, in thinking about becoming a doctor someday, I now think about how I will ever be able to keep things straight and not make any mistakes. Because I know if I do make a mistake, the consequences will be much more severe than a low test score. That brings me back to the same question that I faced in coaching. How can I get the most out of what I have? How do I consider all the data and tendencies that we will learn, and not leave anything out? So far, I think we have learned about maybe twenty drugs - and I struggle to keep them separate. How will I be able to do the same, when that number is in the hundreds or more?
The answer, I think, is to realize that a complete knowledge of medicine is too complex for me. I am going to need help from other people. In order to be able to rely on others in the future, I need to start working on doing so now. The time to cultivate professional, trusting relationships is not when disaster strikes and I can't quite remember the correct sequence of remedies I need to apply. It is the days and months before that time. Thus when it all comes crashing down, I know I will be able to trust those around me to help achieve the best outcome.
This idea is the ultimate lesson in being part of a team. That is what makes athletics so valuable, and is hopefully the lesson that we will start to learn as we begin our medical careers. Learning how, not just to work with other people, but to rely on them and allow them to rely on you. Of course the knowledge is important. Of course it is my responsibility to know it all myself as well as I possibly can. This is not an excuse to be lazy and rely on others to get you by. This is just understanding that more can be achieved when people work together. Being a great teammate is a skill that needs to be cultivated. It takes some humility to ask for help or to ask for other ideas. The time to start working on those skills is before you actually need to use them.
--Scott Stevens is a first year medical student at the Sanford School of Medicine