It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
– Oscar Wilde
Dr. Jamie Santistevan is a senior resident at the University of Wisconsin EM Residency Program. Throughout residency she has been active in the FOAMed community as contributor to multiple educational blogs including emdocs.net. She has also been a leader in the American Association for Women Emergency Physicians (AAWEP) section of ACEP whose mission is to promote women leadership in EM. In July she will continue her training as the Quality and Administration fellow also at the University of Wisconsin. She will surely continue to be a key figure in FOAMed and Emergency Medicine. We are excited for her to share her book recommendations with this post of the ALiEM Bookclub: Beyond the ED.
Jamie Santistevan, MD
When I am not studying for exams, catching up on sleep or finishing notes, I love to read books that are unrelated to medicine. However, one way or another, I find ways to make each book relate to my chosen craft, Emergency Medicine. Here are 4 great titles I have read recently and what I have learned about both myself, and medicine.
The Martian by Andy Weir [Amazon Link]
In this outer-space survival story, the hero, Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut/botanist, becomes stranded on the Red Planet with just a few potatoes and several very expensive NASA gadgets. Secluded from all humanity, Watney has to use his knowledge and experience in astrophysics, electrical engineering, botany and human physiology to “MacGyver” his way through one long and lonely survival mission. If he were a doctor, I believe that Watney would be an Emergency Physician.
Watney faces challenges that parallel our work in the ED: the unpredictability of our craft, the need for versatility to make the most of each opportunity, planning for the worst-case scenarios, and the need to make decisions based on limited information. Like Watney, gaining skills and knowledge from multiple disciplines help us to thrive in any situation.
The book is riddled with humor contrasted with despair and sometimes helplessness. Watney makes major mistakes and has some pretty close calls. However, throughout the book, he highlights the potential of human ingenuity and the will to survive. When he fails, Watney doesn’t give up, he analyzes where he went wrong and tackles the problem from another end. Watney reminds me not to just identify problems, but to think of potential solutions, meticulously plan for the worst, and to not take myself so seriously!
Mindset by Carol Dweck [Amazon Link]
Many people assume that we are all born with certain traits, a fixed set of attributes that cannot be changed, including social skills, intelligence, athleticism, musical talent, and the ability to make friends. Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, argues that intelligence and personality traits are not fixed. Just like athletic talent or artistic ability, personality traits can be studied, practiced and learned. She argues that having a mindset of growth (believing that traits can be learned), instead of a mindset of fixed traits (believing that traits are inherent), allows for the best mental environment for learning.
In this fascinating book, Dweck incorporates evidence from psychology, sports, business and education and writes dozens of case examples of athletes, artists and executives who exhibit one or the other mindset. Michael Jordan, for example wasn’t a superstar right away. He was cut from his high school basketball team; his preferred college didn’t recruit him and the first two NBA teams that could’ve chosen him didn’t draft him. But Jordan demonstrates the growth mindset through his love of learning, tremendous work ethic, relentless practice and by embracing each failure as an opportunity to work harder. Subsequently, Jordan has become one of, or arguably the best, basketball player ever.
Dweck reminds me that the truest gift is not inherent talent or intelligence but rather the curiosity and desire to learn and continually improve through deliberate, hard work and practice. Along the way, I will make mistakes. However, in Emergency Medicine, it is imperative not to let these failures paralyze me with indecision and doubt. It is far better to scrutinize my own cases and those around me, learn from them, and take better care of the next patient.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie [Amazon Link]
In this timeless bestseller Carnegie identifies principles to help people succeed in a variety of different social situations. Some critics argue that the book is meant for salespeople only, but I believe it can be applicable in any profession. Arguably, sometimes, in our field of EM we have to make a tough sell.
If Carnegie could give EM docs advice on how to deal with difficult consultants, I believe he would say, first and foremost, we should avoid arguments at all costs. Avoid telling the consultant that they are flat-out wrong because, he states, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. We should find what can be agreed upon and try to see from the consultant’s perspective. We may say something like, “if I were you, I would totally agree,” because it’s true. When all else fails, we can appeal to their noble motives. Ultimately everyone wants to be honest, fair and good, and we should align in the patient’s best interest.
Carnegie also reminds me simply to come to work with a smile, listen more than I talk, and that kindness goes a long way in our chaotic work environment. When treating difficult patients, I try to remember that each person has a story, everyone is fighting their own battles and I should always try to see the best in people, especially when they appear to be at their worst.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert [Amazon Link]
The author of “Eat Pray Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert, seeks to inspire readers to “live creatively” in this easy-going, fun to read book. What Gilbert means by creative living is to “live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear”. She states simply that creativity is inside everyone and is what defines us as human. Creativity is as natural as fear, but not quite as interesting. Fear is essential for survival in the wild, but we should not let it be the decision-maker in our daily lives. Gilbert warns readers not to take their creative endeavors so seriously as to paralyzed by fear of perfection. She encourages readers to be infinitely curious, and to follow that curiosity to their passions.
Within Emergency Medicine there is a lot of room for creative expression; from giving presentations, writing blog posts or personal reflections, creating podcasts, discovering new ways of practicing medicine or designing ED processes. We all have creative potential and can use that to find new ways to address the challenges in our field.
Gilbert reminds me that as I am early in my career, I work by imitating the best with the goal of further developing my own skills and ideas (“everyone imitates before they can innovate”). I should be prepared to get frustrated as I hit roadblocks or make mistakes, but that is part of the process. When working on a project, I should be disciplined and not procrastinate, but also not strive for perfection because perfectionism leads to paralysis of action (“sometimes done is better than perfect”). Every day I should learn something new, read something interesting and find the answer to a curious question in the back of my mind in order to be constantly learning.
We are all driven towards what we love and are most curious about. Emergency Medicine is our common passion. We should strive to follow our creativity fearlessly in order to continuously improve our daily work within our chosen craft.
* Disclaimer: We have no affiliations financial or otherwise with the authors, books, references, or hyperlinks listed. The Amazon links, however, are Amazon affiliate links.