Change Of Address
Addressing Future Doctors
Coping strategies are an important skill, as are thriving strategies. When I gave the keynote speech at So You Want To Be A Doctor, to teenagers, I laid it bare for them. Being a doctor is hard and stressful. However, being brave enough to fail, resilient & humble, helps. At least, that’s what I believe has helped me. I can honestly say, my heart is full and I am happy.
Addressing NUS Alumni
Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had just talked about thriving. It was at a milestone event as the NUS Society launched a series of “lunch dialogues” at the new NUSS Mandalay Guild House. However that event was not just for the medical fraternity but open to the entire NUS alumni. Therefore I had the pleasure of meeting a new audience from various faculties, drawing lessons rom medicine and delivering a talk that was relevant to them. When I blogged What Does Wellness Mean To You?, I mentioned this talk but didn’t go into detail. Here’s a summary of the themes I presented.
How To Thrive
Thriving Strategy Number One: Triage
Now I have very few photographs of me at work with patients because of confidentiality reasons. However this photo was taken with the permission of the happy parents for the purposes of sharing good news. Usually babies are born in the Women’s Tower but on this night, they couldn’t make it there in time. Hence my team & I had the privilege of delivering their baby. This is one of those situations where I was called to see the patient immediately.
In the Children’s Emergency where I work, we see hundreds of patients a day. How does the nurse know whom to send to us urgently and whom can wait? Essentially, they sort through them very quickly but accurately. This system of “triage” is based on some objective rules about blood pressure, heart rate, etc. But it also includes some subjective features one cannot put a number to, like how ill the patient appears. Triage is a dynamic process. Hence, if a patient who has been deemed to be a non-urgent case starts vomiting violently, he will be triaged again and given a higher priority.
Now this is how I multi-task. I triage the tasks I have into things that are important & urgent which must be done first. At the same time, I keep an eye on those which are important but non-urgent, in case they evolve into something urgent. And the less important, less urgent issues are placed at the bottom of the pile. Well that sounds easy enough but I used to lose sleep over completely unimportant, non-urgent stuff. This year I’m much better at triaging my life. Thank goodness!
Thriving Strategy Number Two: Look After Yourself
When you’re doing a big project, whether it’s professional and involves a tight deadline, or personal like, bringing up babies, it’s common to prioritise them above your wellbeing. Now if it’s short-term, in the last stage of the project, or a couple of months until the nanny returns from home leave, then that’s acceptable. However, when self neglect becomes a bad habit, due to say shift work, then it can accidentally seep into decades of your life.
Look, I would never tell a parent to feed his kid instant noodles & soda everyday. In fact, I might file a police report against the parent for child abuse. Ironically, whenever I’m on night shift, I find myself reaching for instant noodles at 4am when we finally manage to catch up with the masses of patients and whittle the waiting time to under an hour. If I don’t have the 3 minutes required to heat those chemicals up, I might just drink something sugary & caffeinated for fuel. Honestly, I don’t know why. However that’s something I’ve been working on this year. I shared with my audience that I have to look after myself better in order to be a more effective carer.
Thriving Strategy Number Three: Encounter Failure & Improve Resilience
For most Singaporeans, continued success is of paramount importance. How else does one explain the burgeoning business in tuition & enrichment, even for pre-schoolers? In many Asian countries, perfect academic scores is a reflection of good upbringing and parental love. I remember a funny episode in Fresh Off The Boat where the mother calls her son’s “B” an “Asian F”. Now there’s nothing wrong with working hard, of course, but the problem is that children are brought up afraid to fail. That translates into fear of trying new things. Consequently, in sticking to the safe options, their fear of the unknown deepens. Eventually, choices in schools, careers and even marriage are centred around conventional ideas of success. Predictably, should they encounter failure in later years, they have trouble coping.
Falling is important; failing is important. Just as we train doctors & firefighters to respond to emergencies before they happen, we should train our kids early and often. Allowing them to fall & fail in their early years allows them to practise resilience. When things go badly in the future, at least they can pick themselves up. Likewise, for us grown-ups, we should continue to work on our resilience.
There’s something terribly important I must leave you with. It is that my thriving strategies really only work when I humbly accept my inadequacies. I can’t do it on my own. So I check in often & get centred with my community. This might be my team of colleagues, for we count on one another to prop us up when we are exhausted or disappointed. As for my pals, whose laughter is infectious and counsel wise, who could ask for better ones? At home, my family of loving children are my guiding light, as they see the world through innocent eyes and speak candidly.
Part of thriving in a stressful environment, even if you are an introvert, is finding your tribe. Specifically, a community that builds you up, rather than toxic frenemies that tear you down.
Who is your tribe?