Soft skills

I have so much I need to be journalling about, with so much on my mind and my promise to myself to reflect more. And yet with all this swimming in my mind, all these wonderful patient experiences I’ve been mulling over, I haven’t put it down.

Before I get into a touching experience on my palliative care rotation, I need to talk about my incredible progress in those “soft skills” you can’t learn. Yes, it sounds mind-blowingly simple, but I literally have started to smile more and treat everyone around me like humans and, ta da, I’m suddenly more likeable all around. I have always struggled to see myself as important enough to, say, introduce myself to the nurses on a new rotation. I would always think, “Why would they care that I’m the student? Wouldn’t I just be wasting their time from their busy shift?” And that’s all it truly is, a self-confidence issue. I guess over the past year and half of clerkship, I’ve developed enough confidence to be able to small talk with nurses, janitors, people in the cafeteria and elevators. I ask nurses how their day is going and wish them a good weekend. I know it sounds like I’m speaking to an alien who’s never experienced human interaction, but this is actually stuff I didn’t do before and hey, now that I do, I can’t believe I have been such a snob.

Because when it comes down to it, that’s probably how it comes off: I’m the snobby medical student who can’t be bothered to talk to anyone outside physicians. Or on the elevator when I don’t indulge in silly small talk about the weather and what not. Why have I spent my life being such a grump? Why not just make a joke or pretend to laugh at grandpa’s joke or just throw on a big smile for everyone I see? Why the hell not? There isn’t enough joy in the world not to take advantage of small moments like that.

Today was especially fantastic networking wise. There was a free Christmas lunch for medical staff and with my preceptor being one of the organizers, I got to hang out there extra long. A psychiatrist who I had met briefly on my core psychiatry rotation a few months ago grabbed me and took me aside (he literally said “Come talk to me”) and asked how things were going, where I was at in the CaRMS process, reviews on different programs, and how he could help. He introduced me to his psych colleagues and boasted about me despite knowing nothing about me. I did an amazing job of schmoozing despite the fact that I had completely forgotten his name. I cleverly waited for someone, anyone, to say it and sure enough his resident came and mentioned it in passing. The resident also let me know what a big deal this guy actually was, an internationally renowned researcher apparently. At the end, he repeatedly asked me, “Is there anything else you need from me? Are you sure? If you think of anything, you know where to find me.” How ridiculously kind is that?! How do I become this person? It’s always the most successful who end up being the most humble.

Then, after all that good laughing and complimenting and sucking up, I went upstairs and left the team to attend the weekly tea party put on by volunteer grannies. I mean this is literally a group of old white women who choose to bake incredible goodies and host tea party for anyone who wants to come in or out the unit. I chose to attend said party by myself, mingled with the grannies, complimented their baking, engaged in well-meaning but slightly racist conversations, tons of small talk, tons of eye contact, tons of talking to people I had absolutely nothing in common with, tons of extrovertedness all around. I was so proud of myself dammit.

And who would have thought that all it’d take is remembering the human connection that brought me into medicine in the first place. That and a little help from Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”


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