The Graduate Medical Education Consortium board met recently for a strategic retreat. Since we had new members, the dreaded icebreaker appeared, that activity collegial strangers detest in professional gatherings.
It was a simple icebreaker: answer the question HOW DID YOU GET HERE? As the nine board members described their routes into medicine and academia, a pattern emerged: a spiral.
Not a one of these high flyers took a straight path to their destination. One read a book in sixth grade that made her decide—with no background in the family and limited opportunity in her secondary education—to become a doctor. Another left his job as a mail carrier after a chemistry professor told (perhaps even kindly bullied) him to take the MCAT. One drifted toward law school, only to be diverted by a family friend who said he would make a good surgeon because of his interest in working with his hands. Three or four of us were pushed into academic roles by people we had casual friendships with, who encouraged us to exert influence on policy as well as students.
The point being, the path to any career satisfaction is rarely a simple straight row, more like a big squiggly line that involves numerous fallbacks, moments of questioning, and without fail an advocate. Usually this voice guides and supports from within an existing relationship. And quite often, the job one winds up doing is not based on any prior knowledge of how to do it. (Uhm, that’s not true for the surgeons, btw.)
One board member described her learning curve going from the ministry into medical education as steep, fast, and friendly, because she was hand-picked by a colleague to take on a difficult role, based on his observations of her skills. She had not aspired to the leadership thrust upon her, but a decade later is adept at running the department, even though she described herself as “still feeling more lucky than skilled.”
Imposter syndrome abounds, but as the stories emerged, so did that spiral pattern, circling a core of relationships and networks. As one board member observed, “once you’re inside the field of medicine, you can go about anywhere. The opportunities are daunting, so many exist.” A fellow board member (provost of a regional college) added quickly, “Or Academic Administration” and the board members laughed and agreed.
It is as true in Southwest Virginia as it is in any part of the world: relationships build careers, and careers build relationships. That’s a good thing.
Wendy Welch, PhD
“Masks, Misinformation and Making Do: Appalachian Health-Care Workers and the COVID-19 Pandemic”