Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let me be my best.

"Yooooo! Why won't you just let me be great?"

~ Kanye West

Yesterday was my last day of my Thanksgiving-month stint of attending on the hospital service. Since November 30 fell on a Monday, my last day awkwardly coincided with the first day for the third year medical students starting their Internal Medicine rotation at Grady. And since the last day of the month before the teams switch is usually a day of tying up loose ends, it's certainly a less than ideal timeframe for any learner to just be joining.


So late in the morning, I joined the team in the workroom and immediately noticed a new face. The moment we made eye contact, the new student immediately erupted into big smile. Which made me smile, too.

"Hey there! Are you the student joining our team today?"

"Sure am!" He stood up and shook my hand. "Hi Dr. Manning! I'm Bailey!"

Now. Let me tell you the first things I noticed about Bailey:

1. He was bright-eyed.
2. He truly looked glad to be there.

Yeah. That. 

Oh, perhaps most importantly, he had what my daddy has always called a "nervous disposition." Let me explain. A nervous disposition is a good thing. It describes this readiness to engage, this body language that conveys being amenable to whatever might be asked of you because that's why you're here. Kind of like the difference between sitting on the edge of your seat with your spine straight versus being sprawled out on the couch, you know? Essentially it's a non-lazy openness that leads to opportunities--especially in the medical education setting.


And that? That I noticed immediately about Bailey. And let me just say that, for the record, I had never heard anything about him before nor had I had any deep interactions with him prior to this. But that very, very first impression I had of him? It was positive. Extremely positive, actually.

So yeah. That got me to thinking. Thinking about learners like Bailey and several others who immediately make it known that they are there to learn. No, not just to get a high grade, but to actually care for our patients and learn.


This is going to sound rambly because I'm trying to flesh my thoughts out here. And though in that very short time I had with Bailey yesterday I adored him, this isn't so much about Bailey. But it is about the individuals like Bailey. Or better yet, for the ones less like him who miss learning opportunities because they don't get this.

And so. That gets me to the "this."

Mmmmm. Okay. So a few years back, I had this student on my team. He was nice and mostly professional. He showed up on time and finished the tasks for which he was responsible and was never rude or indifferent. When I was talking he wasn't texting or yawning. And, for the most part, was fine.


But on the same team there was another medical student, too. And you know? Pound-for-pound the students were pretty equal as far as knowledge base. They were both extremely bright and impressed me with what they knew on a daily basis. But. The second student was distinctly different.


Let me explain. It wasn't a knowledge thing or a nice thing or a professionalism thing. It was just that the second student was a more . . . . gracious learner than the first. Yes. That.

His interest was conveyed through more than just his specifically assigned work product. It was in his body language, his questions, his dedication to trying to understand and learn. And like Bailey, in his nervous disposition.


I remember being at home each night eagerly preparing my teaching exercises for that team. That second student was always at the front of my thoughts. I realized that his level of enthusiasm brought out more in me as a teacher. I tried harder and was more intentional. I came up with creative, new ways to teach old lessons. And every day, he ate it up and asked for seconds.


The other student? He ate it, yeah. But mostly he feigned this plugged-in expression. And, okay, it may be unfair to assume it wasn't authentic but I'd be lying if I didn't say it always felt a little contrived. Like he was doing that because it was what you're supposed to do and not because he truly, deeply cared about what was going on each day.

Does this even make sense?

Anyways. On Friday, a first year medical student I met recently in the med school lobby sent me a text. She asked it I'd allow her to join me on rounds. And let me be clear and place this in context. This was Thanksgiving break for the first year students. It was also a Saturday. My team would be managing patients admitted overnight and it was sure to be a busy, challenging time. But I didn't dissuade her from coming. I didn't because I already knew that, by definition, any student who is willing to come to Grady Hospital on any Saturday--let alone a sparkling, sunny one during a vacation--would be a gracious learner and would add to the learning climate.

I was right.

So I guess this brings me to my point. The most intentionally engaged learners get the most out of any learning opportunity. Without question. Not just because teachers (and patients) will like them more (which is very true) but because of something more than that. Those kinds of learners make teachers better. It pushes us into a zone of development and makes us go harder.

And let's be straight here: That other learner did nothing wrong. But he didn't necessarily nudge me to do anything out of the box or uniquely tailored for him as a learner. And I guess I'm just thinking that even when folks aren't egregiously disengaged, their neutrality can permit you to throw it in cruise control, you know? Working only in the comfort zone and not pushing anything more than pencils instead of envelopes. Mmmm hmmmm.

Which reminds me of something really cool I heard recently.  .  . .

With Sameer H. and Alanna S., November 2015

One of my former small group advisees, Alanna S., is now on the Emory/Grady faculty. And check it--she was on wards last month and her med student was--dig this--one of my current advisees.  Yeah, man. So Alanna from Small Group Alpha spent two full weeks teaching Sameer H. from Small Group Delta on the wards at Grady. And my heart being about to explode every time I saw them isn't really the point of me telling you this, although that was the case for sure. Anyways. My point was something Alanna told me about her time working with Sameer that struck me and, perhaps, sums up all that I've been trying to get at in this uber-rambly post. After telling me about how great it was to work with Sameer, she went on to say this:

"He let me do my best as a teacher." 

And that? That is it. Right there. Alanna's gracious learner gave her a gift. A gift. To do her best. And to be her best. And you know? We all have opportunities to do that for people. We can all let someone be great and create a space of them to potentially be their best.

At least that's what I think.

Oh, and I wish I had time to talk to somebody about how conversely our responses to others can also set the stage for someone to do their worst, too. Or be their worst. And, I mean, if I had time I'd unpack on that. That is, if I had time I would.

Mmmmm hmmmm.

Anywho. I had this meeting yesterday afternoon on that last day of wards that started at 4pm. But since I knew that I'd only have one day to work with Bailey, I quickly made up my mind to push back my arrival time to 4:30 specifically to give myself more time to spend time rounding with him. And when I did, I initially thought it was for Bailey, you know? But what I now know is that it wasn't. Just in the blink of an eye from shaking his hand in those first seconds, I knew this student would afford me the chance to do my best.


And this? This is something I'll be thinking of for a while. It's something I'll be talking to my small groups and my family about, too. And you know? I'm not sure if this can be taught or even if it needs to be. What I mostly think is that it's already inside of us to be gracious in that way, you know? It's just a choice that can become a habit if we're lucky.

Oh, and if you aren't in medical education? Know that this is really just a metaphor for life and people and relationships. You may already realize this, but I figured I'd say that in case you didn't.

I'm inspired today to try to create environments that let people do their best. My disposition is nervous and I'm ready to jump at the chance to do my part to fan the flames of someone being their best, too. 'Cause guess what happens when you let people be great? It makes you a little greater, too.


Happy Tuesday, y'all.


  1. I LOVE this! As I teacher, I know exactly what you are talking about! I am going to share this with all of my teacher friends. Parents need to read this post WITH their kids because kids need to "get" this!!

  2. I'm going to quote you on this: The most intentionally engaged learners get the most out of any learning opportunity.
    Love your blog!

  3. The Green Eyed BanditDecember 9, 2015 at 2:15 PM

    Oh, I am so loving it. Thank you for the reminder as a teacher and a life long student to get the most out of every learning opportunity and give my best to my students.

  4. Every day you inspire me! Thanks!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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