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Always Be Learning (the right stuff)


The tricky part is that the best learning opportunities arise in situations of adversity, when you’re most likely to be distracted.

A couple years ago, I borrowed from Glengarry Glen Ross when I wrote about how one should ABR (Always Be Recruiting). More important is ABL, spelled out in today’s title.

The principle would be one of health care’s Ten Commandments, if we had any. Should probably make the top three. There are rules/regs aplenty regarding CME to keep docs walking the walk. Even without those, medicine practically forces us to keep current as new developments constantly bombard us from all sides. It would be difficult not to learn.

So we pick up pearls of wisdom here and there. Some fill in gaps from our education and training. Others are more advanced: A weirdo lesion crosses our path, and we have to figure out what we’re looking at from reference-sources or charitable colleagues. Presto, we have our answer (or a reasonable differential), and now we’ve learned what to say if we ever see the lesion again.

There’s a lot of other potential learning that’s more easily missed. Stuff that doesn’t directly show up on diagnostic imaging or reports of same, and it has no CME. The biggest obstacle to this learning is failure to recognize opportunities for it. Sometimes, even when we think we’re learning something…it’s the wrong stuff.

The tricky part is that the best learning opportunities arise in situations of adversity, when you’re most likely to be distracted. Think about it: When everything’s hunky-dory, what’re you liable to learn? Keep on doing whatever you have been, since the status quo is exactly as you’d wish? Big whoop. No, it’s in circumstances most undesirable to you when you have the greatest room for improvement.

Take, for instance, the situation which inspired my blog from two weeks ago: Malicious hacking took down my rad group’s electronic infrastructure. Teleradiologists such as myself were suddenly unable to work offsite. No work equals no income, which resulted in a decidedly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

Visited with such misfortune, folks commonly learn the wrong lessons: “Life’s not fair,” “We make our plans and God laughs at them,” “You can’t count on anybody else,” “Bad luck happens,” “I probably don’t deserve any better,” etc.

Unfortunate truths? Maybe…but they don’t help you improve things, this time around or the next. And let’s face it, by the time you’re an adult, you’ve long since learned such “lessons” time and again. Repetitively self-flagellating with them doesn’t yield new wisdom. It might, however, prevent you from learning new, useful stuff.

Preoccupied by wallowing in self-pity or bitterness at the cold, cruel world, you’re not in the right frame of mind to adapt and overcome. It would be better to recognize what you might have done to defend yourself, what you can do now in the name of damage control, and even hidden opportunities that this turn of events might be presenting you so you can turn your situational lemons into lemonade.

This isn’t always about personal catastrophe or life-altering epiphany. Even the smallest annoyances can provide useful lessons if you’re paying attention. Consider, for instance, a “ding” to your QA. Irksome to the best of us. Sure, some of the time you’re genuinely learning from a mistake you made…but then there are those times where all you’re learning is “I hate QA,” “Dr. So-and-so is a nitpicker,” “This rad group’s process for adjudicating QA stinks,” etc.

Again, hardly adaptive/useful learning. But what if you take the opportunity to scrutinize the petty ways that QA system gets at you? Learn different turns of phrase to use in your reports so Dr. So-n-so has fewer opportunities to play “gotcha.” Take note of how the QA system fails to live up to its purpose. Maybe develop yourself as an expert in QA so you can administrate a superior model. Next thing you know, that’s a highlight on your CV that opens doors for you which would be closed to garden-variety film readers.

One of the most valuable things I learned from my current hacker-induced situation regarded a couple types of insurance (that I wish I had, and that I am now getting): “Business interruption” and “cyber” policies. Pretty straightforward—if your business gets disrupted, such a policy steps in and covers your lost revenue, potentially other things.

Straightforward, yes…but heretofore unknown to me. I’ve been mingling with other rads for over 20 years and not a single one ever said anything about it. (And shame on the various financial and insurance people who have been in my life to never have brought it up! Look how much premium-money they left on the table.)

Knowing of such things, what rad group wouldn’t be insured to protect itself from such circumstances? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for rads in the group to ask that their contracts specify a portion of such insurance-payouts be earmarked to safeguard their income. One might even argue that a group valuing its members should do so without being contractually obligated, but your mileage may vary.

Alternatively, a rad might just get his own coverage. My quick inquiry turned up a quote of under $2k for conjoined interruption/cyber policies…same ballpark as what I pay for disability insurance. An employer might be willing to simply add such a sum to your comp—paying for your coverage rather than committing to shield you with its own policy. And if one employer is willing to do absolutely nothing in this regard—well, others might do better, and more competitively attract rads as a result.

Did I spend time feeling sore about my situation before I learned about, and pursued my own, business-interruption and cyber policies? Sure; it’s only natural to have an emotional reaction when things don’t go your way. But I don’t let it paralyze me. Let it have its moment, then move on. Or, better yet, harness it—turn frustration/anger at misfortune into a drive to learn from it and take action.

It would be ideal to take stock of one’s most-used unhelpful “lessons.” Assemble them into a mental rogues’ gallery. Then, when one or more of them gets triggered by adversity, let it serve as an alarm clock: Wake up! There’s something good to be learned here, don’t miss it!

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