Time, and time again residents tend to give us, medical students, the same piece of invaluable advice: stay humble.
On one occasion, one resident said: “when you’re on the wards, seeing one case after the next and making diagnoses, you’ll feel like god. That’s dangerous. So stay humble.”
As a first year medical student, I failed to understand how it was even possible, as a student who knows so little of the vast ocean that constitutes the art and science of medicine (exponentially expanding), that I could become arrogant. I simply couldn’t make any sense of it. How can I in so little time accumulate enough knowledge to be able to not only be confident, but to exceed this stage and reach a stage of arrogance? It took time and much more exposure to how medicine is practiced for me to finally understand.
Humility is not in any way correlated with how much knowledge I have gained, but with the awareness of how much knowledge I lack and must still learn in order to develop as a physician and as a person. Humility is being able to realize and acknowledge when my knowledge is lacking and when I make a mistake. I must be able to “tolerate awareness of [my] areas of incompetence” (1); the first step towards improvement.
I believe I have slowly grown to implement the concept of being a life-long learner. There is a certain humility that comes with realizing that it is impossible to know everything, and striving to learn as much as possible despite this reality. I see no shame in admitting to patients that I simply do not know the answers to all of their questions. However, I assure them that I will find out and let them know as soon as I can.
As Rick Warren once put it, “humility isn’t denying your strengths, it’s being honest about your weaknesses.”
(1) Epstein, Ronald M. ‘Mindful Practice’. JAMA9 (1999): 833. Web.
Photo credits go to: “How Humility Will Make You the Greatest Person Ever” http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/humility_will_make_you_greatest_person_ever