“See One. Do One. Teach One.” was the mantra of my general surgery internship, and likely yours as well. At the time, I thought it was a cruel joke, as we were dealing with patients requiring central lines, ventilator settings and trauma surgery. Over time, I have come to appreciate the greater meaning of the saying. In reality it is not only a statement about quick on-the-job training, but also the truth and necessity of lifelong learning.
In life, much of learning is through observation. Growing up, my father always brought me along when home repairs were necessary. These experiences allowed me to not only visualize the repair, but also understand what caused the failure in the first place. In medicine—and especially ophthalmology—observation is very important in understanding the disease process, treatment and recovery.
Observation truly works best with repetition. This is best accomplished by participating in specialty meetings where one has the opportunity to view over a year’s worth of experiences in one 30-minute session. Meetings also allow for evaluation of different techniques and approaches.
After initial observation and evaluation, it is time for hands-on experience. I remember the first time I performed a cataract surgery. Even though I had memorized the procedure and watched plenty of videos, nothing prepares you for the true tactile experience. Though most of us are reluctant to admit it, we have all had to “practice” on a patient at some point in our careers. This can be minimized by participating in the many wet labs and skills transfer courses available at many ophthalmology meetings. These courses allow for proctored environments to implement new techniques and technologies so you can build confidence prior to true patient care.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never…was so much owed by so many to so few.” He was speaking of course about the RAF pilots defending Britain during World War II, but the same can be said about all the professors, teachers and mentors that have come before us. They have sacrificed to train and educate us. At times we may minimize their contributions, but none of us can succeed without their assistance.
It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to give back, each according to our abilities. Information and knowledge is not to be hoarded but rather dispersed. Teaching and mentoring is altruistic but also very gratifying. Participating in educating others may be time consuming, but it keeps you on your toes. It forces you to be up to date and constantly bombards you with questions you would not expect. Teaching truly becomes a learning experience in and of itself. National meetings give everyone the opportunity to pass on skills and techniques whether surgical, medical, or practice management related.
We all live relatively isolated professional lives in our practices, but at meetings we can greatly benefit from networking. This is the unstructured learning that is readily available from interacting with our peers. These informal interactions can lead to the tip or idea that, once taken home, can pay for the meeting expense itself several times over. This can be as simple as a coding clarification or as beneficial as a supplier lead. In addition, networking allows you to grow contacts across the world. These contacts and friends provide for a library of readily available knowledge and experience to draw upon.
Many might feel that learning is a progression through levels or stages. In reality, we are always students, implementers and teachers. This view on lifelong learning should be embraced lest we be left behind. Churchill reminds us, “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.” Therefore, we must be ever vigilant to furthering our education and knowledge base.