THE LAST WORD
Three Essential Skills for a Doctor That I Learned From an After-School Job as a Youth
The most unlikely of past experiences can shape who we are as physicians.
Fam Pract Manag. 2019 Sep-Oct;26(5):36.
Author disclosure: no relevant financial interests reported.
Somewhere out there, an old blue Toyota hatchback sports a faded bumper sticker that reads “No Matter Where You Go, There You Are,” and its carpet contains little bits of sand from the Jersey shore, remnants of long, carefree summer days. That car holds some of the best memories of my teenage years growing up in New Jersey. The wonder years tend to look better from the rear-view mirror of middle age, but some things we take from those youthful years shape who we are now, even as physicians.
For me, it was my first job. My older sister worked at the local Friendly's restaurant and was able to get me a job there too. As it turns out, I was a terrible waitress (at first), so bad that I once received a 25-cent tip with a note suggesting I buy the newspaper and start looking for a different job. My skill set at the time did not match “waitress” at all. I would have done well in, say, a library reshelving books. I was (and still am) an introvert and had little experience talking with adults. The environment was closer to fast food than fine dining, so speedy delivery was preferred, but I was kind of slow as I struggled to juggle it all. Had I remembered to bring ketchup to table 10? Did table 12 need more coffee? Was it decaf or regular? It was overwhelming and humbling to be so terrible at something that did not seem like it should be so hard. I quickly realized I had a decision to make: I could figure it out, or I could quit. Driven by the dread of failure and the desire for spending money, I decided to figure it out, little by little.
Sticking with that job was probably one of the best decisions of my life. I didn't realize I was learning several skills that would one day be an integral part of what makes me a good doctor:
Relational skills. Above all, I learned how to read people — how to assess body language, tone, and other nonverbal cues to pick up on what the guest was trying to tell me. I became adept at making angry people calmer and soothing
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