Gaining Self-Awareness from Unexpected Places

Gaining Self-Awareness from Unexpected Places

Linda R. Duska, MD, MPH

Jan 04, 2013
A few months ago I took my then 17-year-old daughter to the Operating Room with me. I had a full day of surgery and she wanted to observe. She’s not really interested in being a doctor, but she is interested in seeing what surgery is all about, and (maybe) seeing how her mother spends her days. It is not my intention to write about how she did that day (although she did very well) but instead to write about how the experience of having her in the OR with me changed how I perceive myself and the way I behave at work.

All of us as physicians who care for patients with cancer have many different roles in our lives. We are parents and children, sisters and brothers. Many of us are researchers and teachers. And during our day-to-day clinical work, whether we are in the office seeing patients, in the infusion unit giving chemotherapy, or in the OR performing surgery, we are part of a care team. Often we lead (in different ways, in different settings) the people who work with us: the other licensed health providers, nurses, medical students, infusion staff, residents, fellows, patient care assistants, clinical research assistants. And in most cases (in my case anyway), we are often trying to do many stressful jobs at once and juggle many sometimes fragile balls in the air.

In the OR that day, we were busy as usual with four big cancer cases in one day. During one of those cases, I said something to the scrub technician, something to me that was normal and appropriate. I don’t even remember what it was. I think the scrub technician, who is a friend of mine, handed me the wrong instrument or handed it to me backward, or something like that, and I said something to her.

And in the background I heard my daughter say “mo-oo-oo-oo-om” in that long drawn out way that teenagers have of talking to us (at least mine do). And it made me stop and think: what did I say? What did I do that made her say that? To my daughter, I was being impolite, not thoughtful, even rude to the scrub technician. She saw me in a very different light than everyone else in that room saw me, and in her mind it was completely appropriate to call me out on it.

Self-awareness can come from the strangest places and in the most unusual ways and times.
My daughter’s impression of me that day made me re-assess my behavior, and not just in the OR. I think about that moment with my daughter a lot: when I’m in the clinic with a student and not feeling patient, when my nurse makes a mistake, when a cancer patient is suffering. No matter how busy I may be, all of the people I work  with and care for have their own lives, their own fragile balls in the air, and their own perceptions of our interaction. And if only I can keep it together all or at least most of the time, I know I can be a better team leader, doctor, and person.


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Ofelia A. Rodriguez Nievas, MD

Mar, 07 2013 1:05 PM

Linda, thanks for sharing your experience but mainly for bringing the lesson learned.. I would say that we all face situations like yours, and the most important portion is to become aware and work on the changes we feel need to be done.. In the end, everyone is benefited..!
Stay well

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