Negative Feedback Changed the Way I Practice Medicine

“All progress occurs outside the comfort zone” — Michael John Bobok

I recently had my six-month check-in at my new job and one criticism that I got was my lack of confidence in my decision-making. This is in fact not a new discovery for me. Unfortunately, I have heard this many times and it continues to plague many aspects of my life. I am constantly troubled by my inability to move forward when faced with a decision. The fear of making the wrong decision leads me to being stuck in a quagmire of "what if's" that ultimately leads to not making a decision at all. 

No one wants to hear the negatives. It’s hard to admit your faults or shortcomings. The first reaction is often to become defensive and outright angry, but I have realized that these words are not meant to hurt but rather serve as an opportunity to learn about ourselves. Like everyone else, I didn’t want to look in the mirror and see the ways I don’t live up to my expectations and those of others. 

There is a lot pressure in medicine to make the right decision, rightfully so. People entrust their lives onto us. However, part of life and the learning experience is making decisions that may not always be right. Medicine is not black and white. There is a lot of gray area and this is where I have to step outside of my comfort zone. There is no way I can grow as a clinician if I don’t embrace the gray and use it as my chance to understand the complexity of medicine. There are no guidelines for these gray areas because we do not have a complete understanding of the human body and can really challenge our intellectual prowess and our decision-making skills.

I cannot rely on running to someone to give me the answer during these difficult clinical situations. I need to be honest with patients when I don’t have the answer. I cannot expect to never mistake. I need to forgive myself when I am wrong. 

Do not get me wrong: I am not trying to endorse negligence but rather acknowledge the limitations of medicine and use that experience to grow. Nothing great ever came from staying in the comfort zone. 

My career goal is to become more confident in my decisions. Learn the difference between not knowing and needing help versus insecurity about my uncertainty. I have to take off my training wheels and plunge into the practice of medicine. I don’t expect perfection from anyone and I shouldn’t expect it from myself. As with anyone else, doctors are fallible and not all knowing. We are not the exception to the rule.

It may take baby steps to get there and require changes in my decision-making skills in the smaller areas of my life before I can fully practice it in medicine — but I will get there. No excuses. No negotiations. I have to insist on the change and commit to a life where I take the feedback I get and turn it into something positive.

Give yourself a chance to breathe. Negative feedback is not necessarily negative. If done correctly it should be constructive and a way to improve on ourselves from the inside out.

Dr. Fola Babatunde is a Cardiology fellow at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed her residency at Duke University Medical Center.

Dr. Babatunde is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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