In the wonderful film Sing Street our hero Conor is trying to get the attention of a girl by starting a band. In one of the key moments of the story Conor’s brother Jack gives him some advice about the direction the band should take, to play covers of popular songs or to go a different way…
‘And you’re not a covers band by the way.
Every school has a covers band. Every pub has a covers band. Every wedding has a covers band.
And every covers band has a middle-aged member who’ll never know whether they could’ve made it in the music industry or not, because they never had the balls to write a song for someone else.
Rock ’n’ roll is a risk. You risk. You risk being ridiculed.’
Conor takes his brother’s advice to heart and during the rest of the film we see the band trying to find their own voice whilst influenced by the music surrounding them in 1980’s Ireland.
So what on earth has this to with medicine?
It is only natural, as we progress through our careers, to look at those around us who we see as experts and want to be like them. We want to be able to make diagnoses like them, teach like them, run a meeting like them and increasingly, in this world of FOAMed, tweet, podcast or write a blog like them. Having people who have skills we can appreciate and aspire to emulate is a good thing, we benefit from having role models in our lives. They help us raise our expectations from the ordinary to the extraordinary and motivate us to be better than we are, however, the problem comes when we start to see these people, or their skills, as the best and only way to behave.
If we believe what we are seeing is the pinnacle of achievement, what is the incentive to be creative, to try something new, to run the risk of being ridiculed by saying ‘Why don’t we try it like this instead?’ When a role model turns in to an idol we risk a reluctance to question their practice. People say the biggest obstacle to change is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ but I’d suggest a bigger one is ‘We do it like this because… (insert expert here)… said that’s how to do it.’ Not being prepared to question what our role models think stifles our sense of curiosity, our desire to learn and thus our creativity. How we will achieve anything better if all we do is repeat what we currently do, even if what we are doing is good?*
In the past these risks were offset by role models having a limited sphere of influence over just a department or maybe even a hospital but in our modern world of medicine where social media interconnection is integral, we now have big names with star power and a global reach. Yes, they have a responsibility to act accordingly but given we can’t control their behaviour**, we must control ours. Now more than ever, we must maintain an appropriate mindset as ‘followers’, remembering that these people are not there to imitate but to inspire, and by doing so they will lift us higher and further than they themselves could reach.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Sir Issac Newton
“We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” – Master Yoda
Whether it is a local practitioner and the way they teach, a national expert and their ability to lead or a global star and their championing of patient safety, we must never look at these people and think, ‘That is the best we can ever be.’ Do not aspire to be the expert you admire, aspire to be better. We don’t need more of the same experts we already have, we need new ones with bigger and better ideas! If we are to move forward then each generation must be reaching further than their current giants, growing beyond their current ‘Masters’. We must aspire to be more than covers bands, playing the same popular tunes that everyone has heard before and loves to sing along with. We must write our own songs, new songs, play them loudly and risk being ridiculed because, just like Rock & Roll, trying to make medicine better is a risk.
*If you want another film reference, go off and watch Disney’s superb Moana. Whilst Moana’s father, the chief, wishes to maintain tradition on their paradise island, she has a desire to try something different, to explore the sea despite the risk to the status quo. It has some great songs and The Rock singing in it… what more could you want!
** The best ‘stars’, whether local or global, will never want you to imitate them, they will instead challenge you to be a better version of you (and them)… that is certainly my experience of any I have met.