Great Mentors – No Excuses
One of my great mentors, Henry Mankin, M.D., was an imposing man, both physically and intellectually. With a Falstaffian frame, broad face, balding crown, thick horn-rimmed glasses, and a full jet-black mustache, he often had a wry smile, but if he was displeased with a student’s performance, the smile rapidly disappeared.
After I completed my course of study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and my internship in San Francisco, I met Dr. Henry Mankin, chief of my residency program at The Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City.
He was a kind and compassionate caregiver and an extremely accomplished physician and educator who had done groundbreaking research in osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal tumors. He had published numerous papers, maintained a busy clinical practice, and lectured worldwide.
Mentors Who Lead By Example
Mankin had breathtakingly high standards – academical, ethical, and in regard to patient care. He was the epitome of leadership by example. He would often make house calls, and he worked harder than anyone else; typically, we arrived at the hospital at 5 a.m., but no matter how early we got there, he was already in his office.
Medicine is a lifelong process of self-improvement. Part of this experience is learning to react positively when being criticized.
One morning while it was still dark outside, I was making rounds and tending to a patient who was complaining that his arm hurt where his IV had been inserted. I thought I’d examined his arm properly, but I didn’t realize that the IV was not still in his vein, and the solution was slowly infiltrating into the surrounding tissues.
I missed the diagnosis. Fortunately, it wasn’t a serious error, but all the same, it caused some increased swelling in the arm and unnecessary discomfort for the patient.
As luck would have it, the patient was Henry Mankin’s, and he saw the man later that morning. When he questioned me about the IV, I tried to make excuses – I said I couldn’t see properly in the dark and when I felt the arm, I thought the IV was in place. These explanations didn’t go down well. Dr. Mankin didn’t scream or yell, but he made it abundantly clear that my response was not acceptable.
Believe me, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was disappoint him.
Dating from that experience during my first year as a resident, I never, to my knowledge, made an excuse again. I had learned a significant life lesson: Take responsibility for your actions.
Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant may have said it best: “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: 1. Admit it. 2. Learn from it. 3. Don’t repeat it.”
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