Taking First Steps
There’s nothing that provides a better analogy to the first year of being in practice than a baby learning to walk. The child has spent several months carefully studying the movements of expert ‘walkers’ and has logged the required 1000s of hours in simulators, either bouncing or wheeling themselves around closed spaces in preparation for D-day. The first couple of steps are usually unsteady and the initial fall comes as a complete shock, and for some, is enough to halt any further exploration. The fall is, however, quite expected by their care providers, who lovingly cheer and encourage subsequent attempts. For each knows that the falls are necessary, the first of many in the long journey of life ahead, meant to develop not only resilience but also to help teach the baby healthy limits.
Beginning at Michigan
I was ecstatic my first day here at Michigan. It symbolized the end of a very long arduous period of training. Admittedly I was equally anxious about working in an institution I had never been part of before, having very little insight into how things worked or its culture and values. I was nervous about how I—with all my quirks and unique experiences – would find a place not only to fit, but where I could thrive. The first couple of months were filled with growing pains, with every task, even the simple things such as finding a parking spot or getting to my office, extremely challenging. Then there was designing a clinic schedule and managing complex teams to help deliver care, all requiring skills I had received minimal training in. And each day, I would take my patients home with me, burdened with the decisions I had made, worrying about outcomes sometimes weeks after we had parted ways. As a resident, I had always taken ownership of my patients but to some degree, there was the unspoken comfort of knowing that they ultimately belonged to the faculty. Unawares, I was just babysitting until I could hand them back to their parents at the end of a defined period. Now as an attending, there was no such escape. The unsteadiness of those first several weeks and months was quite palpable and many times I stumbled or fell, several causing me to retreat back to safer, more familiar terrain.
I tell my toddlers frequently “You can do it!”, because I know they can even if they can’t see past whatever challenge stands in their way, sometimes consisting of their own insecurity. Reflecting on the past year, I realize that through each stage including the highs, lows and even those steady periods, there have been individuals and groups cheering me on, repeatedly saying “You CAN do it”. It is one of the things I’ve come to love and appreciate about Michigan – that genuine interest in the well-being and success of people we work with each day. It is what I think forms the foundation of the Michigan Promise, and what makes it so effective. My awesome cheerleaders span all departments and staff including the Black custodial worker who pauses each day he stops by to empty my trash basket and says he’s happy I ‘made it’ and how proud I’ve made our community.
Now one year through practice, I am definitely walking more steadily and getting back on my feet quicker after those falls. With assistance from my cheering squad, I’ve been able to identify my niche in the larger Michigan community and have taken on roles that position me perfectly to whisper to another person embarking on their own journey, “You CAN do it!”.
Article by Gifty Kwakye, MD, MPH (Twitter: @Gifty_Kwakye_MD)
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