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Be an expert in follow up

*Post 5 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

Last night I was at a workshop delivered by two family physicians who both have long and distinguished careers as leaders in healthcare, from having executive positions in the college of physicians to running hospitals. One key piece of advice they provided was to be an expert in follow up.

What is follow up? I’m not completely sure, but I think it has to do with checking in with people (both yourself and others) and see how progress is going. It means seeing if people are on pace and holding them accountable for their goals. Follow up with others is by no means an easy subject – sometimes it means getting on someone’s back for not getting the job done. That’s never fun, and not particularly easy, as you can imagine. Follow up also means re-evaluating your own progress and making sure you are on pace so you get a good example.

What do you think the phrase means? What does it mean to you?

Adapting to authority

*Post 4 in the 30 Posts in 30 Days Challenge

A friend and classmate of mine asked me the other day how to know if it’s okay to joke around with a supervising physician. I think it’s both an interesting and important question because it begs an even larger, more universal question when it comes to dealing with authority. How do you know what’s okay to do around a boss or a person of authority in your life? Of course, no one wants to irritate someone in charge. So how do you know what’s okay and what’s not?

A brief story

One day I was with a physician for the day just observing and learning. Like any other medical student, I want to be professional and respectful. What that means is my smart phone almost never leaves my pocket until the day is over.

About half an hour into the day, we were just sitting around in his office. I could tell quite quickly that he was a nice, chill, and laid back guy. At one point, he took out his smart phone and started texting with his wife. I then took out my smart phone and started texting myself. The rest of the day went fantastic and I think we got along very well.

If it’s okay with them, it’s probably okay with you

Your first reaction might be that I took a pretty big risk, perhaps even foolish and could possibly have been interpreted as unprofessional. Rest assured I don’t do things like this likely. It was a decision I felt reasonable comfortable with based on everything I knew. I had built a pretty good rapport with the guy so far, I could tell he was very laid back and chill, and I’m finally getting to my main point of this post: since texting was okay with him, I felt comfortable assuming he’d feel it okay with me.

Of course there are exceptions (this is not a perfect rule, don’t go out abusing it!), but in many circumstances, the best way to know whether certain actions are okay with your boss is simply to observe your boss first. If your boss makes a certain kind of joke, chances are he would be okay with you making that kind of joke. Would she be okay if you ate food with your hands? Probably, if she was doing it already.

There are also some advantages to doing this. One is that sharing something in common builds rapport. Secondly, performing a similar action provides validation to the your boss that his actions are acceptable and reasonable – that it’s okay for them to do what they’re doing.

If I sat stone faced, twiddling my thumbs, while my supervising physician was taking a bit of a break to text, it’s conceivable that he might have felt embarrassed and began to question the appropriateness of himself texting in the situation. But if I do the same, then he’s not leaving me hanging. In his mind, it validates that what he’s doing is okay.

Again, you need to look at this on a case by case basis, but I think it’s an interesting concept to keep in mind and apply if the situation is right.

Where does creativity come from?

I stared at my screen for a long time tonight trying to figure out what angle I wanted to pursue for my keynote at the upcoming Science Expo conference.

Eventually, I came to a revelation about myself. A eureka moment. A concept that will be the basis of my talk. A random spark of creativity that I sat here all night waiting for.

And it’s wonderful that it happened, but I can’t help but ask myself – how did it happen? Where did this idea that I never considered before suddenly come from?

I’m trying to recall what I was thinking at the time that led to it. Why? Because I want to recreate that moment again – I want more sparks of creativity!

But how I got there has eluded me. And maybe it’s supposed to. It’s called sparks of creativity for a reason, right?


Oh right, you probably want to know what suddenly came to me. Crap, I can’t say. Saving it for the talk! See you there? =)

A is for Attitude – maintaining a positive attitude even when everything goes bad

Last fall, Shelly wrote an entertaining about Med Student Awesome that was inspired by the Book of Awesome.

The guy who wrote that book is Neil Pasricha, and a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a talk he gave at a TED event:

It’s a fantastic talk and I encourage you to all to watch it. In his talk, Neil shares his 3 A’s to living an awesome life: attitude, awareness and authenticity.


While all three of those A’s are important, the idea of attitude has really resonated with me recently. In the past few weeks, I had two of the most off days I had in a long time. By off days, I mean days where so many things go bad that your perspective on life becomes temporarily shifted towards great negativity. Without going into details, I was unhappy and that unhappiness spread to the way I looked at every single thing in my life.

My life is completely awesome and I am super grateful for everything. But when I was unhappy and my attitude was extremely poor, I looked through everything with a telescope of negativity. I began to focus on every negative thing in my life and ignore all the positives. Instead of looking at how much I had accomplished in my research, and I focused only on how much I had left to do. I saw only failure when really it was failure surrounded by success.

Our reality is whatever we perceive it to be. I finally came to the realization that my life was only disappointing because I viewed it through a telescope of disappointment. We have to take the good and the bad, always, and neglect neither. Our attitude in times of both good and bad significantly affects how we react to both success and failure.

The busier you are, the worse it is when everything goes wrong

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Feeling burned out? I used to be too.

Disclaimer: This is a humorous semi-humorous post. Please don’t use this post to judge my understanding of healthiness. I concur that I inappropriately make some unhealthy behaviours seem healthy.

Two years ago, at one of my medical school interviews, I was asked, “How do you plan on dealing with burnout in medical school?” I remember mumbling something along the lines of ‘oh, I’m going to make sure to do stuff outside of school and balance my time’. The interviewers nodded their heads and I realized that the answer was good enough. It was sort of ironic that I got asked that question because around the time, I was the most burned out I had ever been in my life.

As we approach burnout period (late winter/early spring of the year), I thought I’d write a post with regards to this topic. Burning out is something every student hears about, but few act on. I know I always brushed it off, thinking that it wouldn’t happen to me or I’d deal with it easily. You know, it’s sort of like eating healthy, sleeping enough, exercising more often, …blah blah. I don’t really do all those things, yet I haven’t had a heart attack. But no, seriously, burnouts are something very important. See the end of this post for a P.S. about my burnout two years ago.

What is ‘burning out’ exactly?

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Taking your body AND your mind to the gym

Lots of people take their music with them to the gym. For the longest time I was the same, working out to the radio or my playlist. I would just listen to the music and get lost in my own thoughts.

But at some point, I realized I had heard the same songs over and over again. Sure new songs come out all the time, but there only a couple of new good ones every so often, and I would play those to death anyways.

That’s when I started listening to podcasts while working out (when else would I listen to them anyways?), and found it a great way to make the time go by faster while also learning something interesting and new.

Here are a couple I listen to right now, and I’ll add to this list if I find something interesting over time.


CBC Ideas: Run by CBC radio and researchers / experts in different fields are invited to present or debate an issue. Art, science, technology, history, philosophy – you name it, they have a podcast on it.

TED Talks: Where have you been if you haven’t heard of TED talks? TED conferences “bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes)“. Most of the talks are fascinating, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

Do you listen to any podcasts? Anything you suggest? Let us know! 🙂

Not in the right mindset? Take a break!

I have a friend who, when it comes to studying, instantly gives up and goes to sleep once he gets tired. He’ll study during the evening, start to feel tired and his brain go to mush, and hit the sack at 12am, sometimes earlier. Even the night before the exam, if he doesn’t feel ready yet, he’ll still go to bed at 12am and then wake up early in the morning to study more once he is a bit refreshed.

In contrast, I will feel disappointed in myself for not studying enough, and then try to cram a few more things in at 2am even though I know I’m not awake enough to be efficient. Even though I’m tired as heck and nothing is really going in.

I wish I could do what my friend does with the ease at which he does it. What he’s doing is really smart and is something I should be thinking about in all aspects of my life that require mental focus, and not just when it comes to studying.

You have to know when to quit.

When it comes to performance, being in the right mental state is crucial. You can’t perform your best if you’re not mentally there. What you can study in 2 hours half awake can be completed in half the time while awake and probably more efficiently.

Tired and brain is mushy? Go to sleep or take a break.

Frustrated and upset? Take some time to clear your head

It goes beyond just being tired. When we’re emotionally charged or frustrated it’s hard to focus and stay in control. We’ve all experienced trying to tackle a problem only to hit a wall and feel completely stumped. I don’t just mean a math problem. These can be problems in relationships, in hobbies, in work – anything. When we’re frustrated and emotional with problems, it’s difficult to focus, think clearly and make good decisions.

Frustrated? Distract yourself with something else until you cool down, and then come back to the problem with a clear head.

Sometimes it feels like you’re so busy that you can’t afford to take a break. Well unless your exam is tomorrow, I’m telling you right now, you can afford to take a break. Take that break, recharge and refresh your head, and get back up ready to go at it 100%.

How to be an Effective Team Player

We all come across group situations in all aspects of our lives. Our family is a group. We exist in groups of friends, employees at work, students in a classroom, members of a club – I could go on and on. The point is that all of us are a part of many groups and throughout our lives we will join and leave many new groups.

Despite the numerous experiences we all have in groups, we all face challenges with group dynamics: conflicts, communication, motivation, direction, etc. Often times we struggle trying to answer questions like: What is my place in the group? How should I be contributing? How do I get along with everyone?

All of these fall under one big question: how can I be a more effective team player?

Today, I present to you 10 things to help you be a more effective team player:

1. What value does the group provide to me and what value do I bring to the group?

Every time I consider getting involved in a group/initiative, I want to make sure there is value being provided in both directions.

What do I mean by this? Basically, I think the relationship between myself and the group should be reciprocal in that we both gain from the experience. The experience is a positive one when everyone benefits.

For instance, imagine a kid’s community baseball team. A kid who decides to join gains value because he loves baseball and gets to play it with the team. The team benefits because the kid is an enthusiastic member who will give it his all and make the team better.

Conversely, imagine that same kid is asked to play with a community basketball team. The team might benefit from his athleticism, but if the kid does not enjoy playing basketball, then he doesn’t gain from the relationship. If he doesn’t gain, then he won’t be happy.

This is a typical phenomenon we often see when students join clubs they don’t have a real interest in. If they aren’t interested, then often times they receive no value from the experience, and become unhappy and unmotivated the longer they stay with the club. Of course, that’s not to say that the experience isn’t valuable if you don’t enjoy it (e.g. you might hate a course but it’s valuable to you because it’s required for your degree). The point is that you should be getting something valuable out of your group experience, and in turn, you must be providing value to them in order for the experience to be a good one.

Long story short, you want to join a group that makes sense for you – a group where both you and the group benefit from you being involved.

2. Play to your strengths

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What Makes a Good Lecture?

I have been attending university lectures for almost four and a half years now, and while sitting through a lecture this morning, it hit me – why haven’t I written an article on what makes a good lecture?

Sure, I have technically never lectured before. What the heck do I know? Well, as someone who has to watch these lectures, I know there are lectures that I have loved and lectures that I have absolutely hated. I know what aspects made me enjoy the lecture and what I didn’t.

The more enjoyable the lecture experience is for students, the more they are likely to listen, and thus, the more they are likely to learn – and isn’t that what we want?

Simply spewing the facts and content isn’t the whole thing, although sometimes it feels that way with some lecturers – your approach to the lecture is going to significantly affect not just what students absorb today from your lecture, but also their attitudes to future lectures and future learning.

So, what makes a good lecture?

1. Attitude

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The Importance of Prioritizing

For those of you who have followed this blog over the past few years, you might recall my 3rd year of undergrad when York went on strike for a few months. When the strike was over and school finally resumed at the beginning of 2009, we had to make up a lot of lost time, leading to an unusual schedule. This included our Winter exam period being pushed from the normal December period to February.

However, this coincided with medical school interview season. I remember clearly how my Queen’s interview on Feb. 27, 2009, immediately preceded my Molecular Biology final exam on Feb. 28, 2009. That was actually the only exam I had to do, and I had a week to study for it. That also meant I had a week to prepare for my Queen’s interview.

What did I do? I ended up spending the entire week preparing for my Queen’s interview, and only started studying for my Molecular Biology exam the morning after my interview. I had a 100 average going into the exam, and after the exam, I ended up with an A in the course, obviously because I wasn’t well prepared for the final exam.

Same Situations, Difference Choices

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