Articles and Case Studies

The One Ingredient for a Meaningful Career

07 Nov 2018

by Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan

Do you remember being a wide-eyed and impressionable medical student? Do you remember looking up to certain doctors who had the right touch?

They stood out because of their deep compassion for their patients, balanced with sharp clinical skills and approachability.

Contrast that with the frustrated, angry and burnt-out doctor who didn’t acknowledge your existence. Who snarled impossible questions at you and didn’t even bother to ask for your name. Your hair stood on end when they approached, nothing ever seemed to be right, and patients were often confused and unhappy with their interactions.

Did you know that both these doctors have played a part in shaping the type of doctor you are today?

Whether good or bad, we are the composite of our teachers and clinical experiences. We mirror the best and sometimes the worst of what we’ve seen and learnt from those who had a direct hand in our clinical career. So the question is, how do we steer our careers and lives towards being doctors who truly make a difference?

I believe the one thing that will allow you to have a long and meaningful career is using the power of self-reflection.

The ability to self-reflect allows us to sharpen our best skills, and stop self-sabotage and elements of our behaviour which keep us from progressing. If you want to be the type of doctor who attracts opportunities, you need to be the type of doctor whom others want to be around – it is that simple.

If we are honest, we’ve all seen brilliance wasted and lives broken due to the relentless pursuit of power and prestige, and the failure to stop, reflect and self-care.

As medical leaders, we must begin to ask: What is the one thing that others would say I need to change about myself to be the type of doctor who enriches others?

A year ago, I left general practice to undertake the Clinical Diploma of Palliative Care, balancing this with my anaesthetic practice. I knew this work would be challenging, and due to my history of burnout I organised a monthly Clinical Supervision session with a senior colleague.

To my surprise, the conversations in our sessions did not focus on palliative care, but rather upon the most glaring and distressing aspect of my personality – perfectionism.

Every clinical story that we dissected and reflected upon almost always came back to my insistence on perfection. While I had perfectly placed over 200 epidurals and spinals in six years, I couldn’t let go of having two failed spinals. While I had perfectly tried to help several severely depressed patients, I couldn’t let go of those few who had harmed themselves.

Further from my clinical life, my perfectionism was hurting my family, affecting the way I was raising my sons with rigid rules and unfair expectations. But most of all, it was hurting my wellbeing, leaving me more anxious and incapable of self-compassion.

The blue sky we found in our sessions was the concept of being a ‘good enough doctor’. This was first observed and written about by British Paediatrician, Donald Winnicott in his observation of thousands of mothers and babies, when he described the ‘good enough mother’.1

Good enough wasn’t about being mediocre or above average, but about continual improvement and excellence rather than the illusion of perfection or ‘being the best’.2,3

This one thought brought freedom to my clinical work and personal life. It allowed me to practise self-compassion inwardly, and outwardly offer it to those in my world because I was indeed a ‘good enough doctor’.

The most important thing that doctors can do to have a long and meaningful career is stop and practise self-reflection. It is the one thing that allows great doctors to leave an even greater lasting legacy.

Live intentionally.

Dr Jonathan Ramachenderan (MDA National Member)
General Practitioner Anaesthetist
Albany, WA

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  1. Winnicott DW. The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship. Int J Psychoanal. 1960;41:585-95.
  2. Smith R. Thoughts for New Medical Students at a New Medical School. BMJ. 2003;327(7429):1430-3.
  3. Ratnapalan S, Batty H. To Be Good Enough. Can Fam Physician. 2009;55(3):239-42.

Doctors Health and Wellbeing, Employment Essentials, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME


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