Not only are these words that Dr. Joe Niamtu lives by, but he believes all the best (and most fulfilled) doctors do too.
Like many of the people reading this article I have given hundreds if not thousands of academic presentations over three decades, spanning six continents. I always end my lectures with a slide of me with my collection of speaker badges.
Yes, I guess I am a hoarder, but each meeting reminds me of a special experience.
Always be a teacher; always be a student. I am not sure where I first heard these words and I certainly did not make them up — probably the Egyptians or Romans did, as the idea is timeless. For some of us our job is simply employment, and I have friends who unfortunately yearn for two things in their life: Friday and retirement!
Hating your job is not a great way to go through life. On the other hand, I have so many other fulfilled friends like myself who truly love what they do and are passionate about their job. When I say job, it is really a misnomer, as I should say “career.”
When I speak to students or residents, I always stress the point that most people in the workforce are “TGIF” because they can't wait to get away from their jobs. Whereas I am really TGIM, and I can't wait till Monday. After three decades of practice, I started taking Fridays off of work and, I can tell you, by Sunday night, I'm excited to go to work on Monday and perform a facelift. I feel very lucky to have such a passion where my vocation is my avocation.
I do have friends and partners that don't mind their jobs, but it is really more of a nine-to-five situation for them. They don't do much continuing education and they really don't participate in any formal teaching, publishing or have an online presence. They are very good at what they do but I think they're missing out on a lot.
Anyone in life — and it does not only apply to doctors — can be a lifelong teacher and a lifelong student. I feel that we are all always learning and, for many of us, we are always teaching. Teaching may formally relate to giving lectures or demonstrations to colleagues and students. It may also refer to helping staff be better at what they do. And it may also refer to interaction with our families. Most people that I know who are truly fulfilled in their personal and professional lives are teachers and students, always.
Again, like many people reading this article, I’m a bit over the top when it comes to being involved in my profession. I maintain an extremely busy surgical schedule (I did 110 facelifts last year). I personally do all of my clinical photography and before and after pictures. I do all of my own social media and manage my own website. I teach a yearly cosmetic surgery course at my office, lecture about 15 weekends a year and am continually writing some journal or textbook article. For some people that would be a horror show but, again, I love what I do and this all plays into the satisfaction of watching my practice grow to an international entity.
Although some doctors don’t consider themselves teachers, we actually all teach, if nothing else by example. Teaching allows more experienced people to interact with less experienced people, which is invigorating and a necessity for mentorship. Everyone reading this article can think of a given person or persons in their life that pointed them in the right direction and inspired them to become what they are today. For a person reading this that says, “Who in the heck am I going to teach?” that is a simple answer: Begin at work. Although most of our staff understand what we do, taking time to teach them the finer points of anatomy, physiology and surgical technique can improve them personally and professionally. This will pay off for you in the long run by better assisting, better consults and more informed employees.
In this day and age of digital technology, all you need is your phone (as a camera) and PowerPoint on your laptop and — BANG — you have something to offer. Teaching a particular clinical skill, for example, “How to Set Up the CO2 laser,” simply involves creating a short PowerPoint or phone video. Now, not only does your current staff have a resource for understanding how to correctly set up your laser, but new hires can view the file at any time, which saves the office time, the doctor frustration and increases patient safety.
If you have a residency program in your city, having young doctors shadow you or observe you during surgery is rewarding for both sides. I work with residents from Virginia Commonwealth University on a weekly basis and, I have to say, I have learned as much from them as I have taught to them. The same thing is possible with medical and dental students or even college students. There are many levels of students that would love to hear a lecture that includes information about a given specialty, anatomy, practice management and more.
Having residents or students observe or shadow in the office can be a very rewarding experience for all involved.
I publish frequently mostly in the cosmetic and aesthetic print literature or online. I frequently get asked by younger doctors, “How did you get chosen to be in that magazine?” and my answer is, “I picked up the phone and called them or sent them an email and asked them if they would be interested in having me write an article on a given topic.” You would be surprised how many media outlets are interested. Some ignored my requests, often multiple times, but slowly, one article at a time, my efforts blossomed. Media outlets are continually searching for content and if you can provide topics of interest and deliver them ahead of deadline, you are way ahead of the pack and can become a regular contributor.
Most of this article has addressed teaching, but the other important part of this equation is to always be a student. When I look around at really successful colleagues, I see numerous common denominators. One of them is energy. These people are never lazy. They are continually juggling projects and have a quest for knowledge. Another attribute is a sense of wonderment. Movers and shakers are never satisfied with the basics but always interested in looking deeper into the way things work and questioning all of their surgical techniques to see what they can do better and what can deliver the most predictable outcomes for their patients. They read. They study. They watch videos. They attend meetings. These people are not clinical nerds, they all have nonclinical passions and hobbies to balance out their lives.
One of the things that I do as student is when I can’t remember a specific anatomic entity or the name of a drug or a new drug on the market, I add it to a list on my phone. When I have time, I go down the list and educate myself. Usually it is reeducation, as I knew it once but forgot. If you don’t write down these things (“Hey Siri, remind me to look up….”) you will forget.
Every night when I go to bed I ask myself, “What did I do today to enrich myself or those around me? What did I do to make a positive contribution to society?” It is not a good day if I don’t have an answer.
I believe, to be the best that we can be: Always be a teacher; always be a student.