The Productive Response to Difficult Clinical Cases
Organic chemistry was the big bear of undergraduate studies. I remember everyone freaking out before the class even started. People had heard from upperclassmen how tough O-Chem was and that many had failed it. I was at a critical point in my education where I could not let the opinions of others dictate my outlook. I had a strategy while enduring this class to make organic my “favorite” course. I figured if I could get excited about the most difficult part of my day, I would experience success.
Fast-forward 10 years.
During PA rotations, I never once scrubbed in for an ACL case. In fact, I had never seen one before. I knew that the PA had the very important role of preparing the graft. This entailed cleaning, whip-stitching, sizing and stretching a piece of tendon from the patient or from a cadaver. As the joke goes, if you drop the graft, hop on the table so they can take your own tendon, and then they will take your job. At least I hope it’s a joke.
I have been through 12 ACL cases thus far and I still get nervous. Recently, I figured out that the complexity of the case became intimidating to me. In order to combat my “paralysis by analysis” and actual dread, I decided to make ACL cases my most favorite, to actually get excited about them rather than fear them. So far, this approach has paid off significantly.
I know this sounds like a Jedi mind-trick, but it actually works. Being a new PA can be intimidating as it is, but adding on the difficulty of medicine is a heavy burden. It’s perfectly healthy to be a little intimidated, because it fosters an attitude of respect. The challenge is to develop a productive perspective rather than a destructive view. We cannot choose our challenges in medicine, because we inevitably have to deal with them. How we deal with those “big bears” is determined by our response to difficulty.