Whether you are starting your clinical rotations, internship, or residency or are at any other point of your medical career, you will find that life in the hospital is all about teamwork. You may not always be able to choose who will be in your crew, but you can always decide the attitude you will have toward them, to help the team function in a more decisive manner.
This may sound simple, but as you progress through medical school, you will find that there are many different ways of living, thinking, and acting that you may or may not share. Confrontations occur frequently in any team—let alone in a complex multidisciplinary structure, such as a health care institution—and when opposites meet, it takes considerable humility, social skills, and understanding to resolve conflict.
Creating the appropriate conditions that allow for finding self-identification within the work of an entire health care team can lead to personal fullfilment. This in turn contributes toward building a friendly atmosphere and, even on a student level, positively influences patient care.
At times you might find the urge to stand out from the rest, or you might find that your individual goals don’t align with those of your team. When placed in a project you are not interested in or when your peers won’t work the way you consider best, how can you find the necessary balance between your interests and theirs without negatively affecting the overall performance of the group?
Teams come in all shapes and sizes, and throughout your career you will encounter people you with work very well and those who have selfish or negative attitudes. Finding myself halfway through my internship, I have discovered that I have seen both ends of the spectrum and have some insights to offer.
Surround yourself with the right people
If you work with people who do not care about studying or are not passionate about their career, you risk becoming like them. If you want to improve your grades, surround yourself with people with good grades; if you want to be a better person, be with people who build you up and believe in you. The only way to keep growing and progressing in medicine is to be around people from whom you can learn. If you have the opportunity to choose, make sure you pick someone who challenges you and makes you want to improve. The phrase comes to mind, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
When the time came to apply for my internship, I chose the Instituto Nacional de Nutrición y Ciencias Médicas Salvador Zubirán, arguably the public hospital with the best internal medicine program in Mexico. I did not know who my new colleagues would be, but I suspected that, if they had enrolled at that same institution, they would probably share my goals and be study-oriented. I was not disappointed, for I have learned from them in six months much more than I had on any other year of medical school.
Learn from your peers
Remember that if you can’t choose the people you are with, you can always pick what you are going to obtain from them. Everyone has something to teach if you are willing to learn. Everybody has experienced something you haven’t and knows something you don´t.
When my clinical rotations team got together for the first time, I did not know that one of my friends was a marathon runner; he used to wake up at 5:00 am every day to train. It did not take long before I decided to bring some of that discipline and commitment into my life and started running myself.
Recognize in others the complexity you recognize in yourself
Everybody is different, and you are not superior to your peers. Believing that your way of thinking and acting is the only way is not simply ignorant, it is morally bankrupt. Meet people who are different from you, experiment with new things, open up to new ideas. You have the same rights as your peers, and there is no reason for your interests to trample theirs.
The doctor whom I admire the most (who also happens to be my father) once told me, “I have always thought that arrogance is the greatest danger in medicine. It represents the loss of sense in our profession and the beginning of our decline, for then things are done for public recognition and not with a sense of service to others. Not being humble enough to recognize strengths and weaknesses in oneself does not bode well for one’s future.”
Teamwork will inevitably generate conflicts. In my opinion, effective communication is the best way to prevent them. Be mindful of other team members and how your actions might affect them.
Even when a problem isn’t your fault, you have to be willing to forgive and not hold grudges. Keep in mind that you will be working with these people for a long time. They might also be the ones who will recommend you and send patients to your future practice.
Running away from the problem or beating around the bush seldom resolves an issue. Your best tools in these situations are honesty, active listening, and temperance. I have found humor to be an effective way to reduce tension when used appropriately.
Dedicate time to build relationships
In medical school, you often spend more time with your fellow peers than with your family. It’s never too late to improve your social life. Develop a sense of belonging to the group. Interact, bond, engage: go for a drink or coffee with them sometime. You will find that your fellow team members will help you reach your goals and even support you through tough times. After all, you just might be discovering your lifelong friends.
This text is dedicated to my friends Gonzalo Saavedra and Flavio Franyuti for teaching me what a great team should be.
Francisco Ruiloba Portilla