On the Wrong Side of Right…

in #MedEd by

A terrific TED talk that I stumbled on Dr. Ravi’s Posterous blog. A great bit:

“The way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes: we learn these really bad lessons really well.”

The thing that struck at me in this narrative, which I zoned out for a little bit at the end, I will be honest, is how it is so similar to our medical education system. We go through a decade of our lives worrying so much about being right, that we fail to realize when we can go wrong. We equate going wrong in one field with incompetence in general. We look down upon the hard partying kinda folks and automatically assume that they are the ones who flunk the tests and become licensed killers. On the other hand, we automatically identify the confident, yet callous person, to be the more competent one. The ones who are the first to raise their hands to answer obscure questions in class were invariably the ones who were also the first ones to desert the ER when there was a troublesome case.

Medicine, at least the practice of it, is, in many ways, like an art in that its proper execution is rendered by a combination of the head and the hand. Competence/incompetence in one does not mean the same on the other. Yet, we are screened and judged by a system that primarily tests on our ability to ace tests before unleashing us into the world.

Anyways. I should rein myself in before this rant gets any more insane. Enjoy the video…

Skeptic Oslerphile, Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!


  1. I have to say as a science-dork, a HUGE marker for someone I am interested in talking to and whose words I am most likely to trust (or hire) is that they do not hesitate to say: “I don’t know.” This is SO uncommon it’s shocking, despite the fact that the “what the?” moment is KEY to the scientific process. SO many discoveries were made when the outlier in a study, rather than being tossed aside, was investigated. I admire that intellectual bravery. My doctor both says “I don’t know” and does not hesitate to pass one on to a specialist. Therefore, he is the BOMB. =)

    • One of the things that I have noticed as a particularly nosy med student is that when my teachers did not know the answer to questions, they would rarely admit it, and rather, would launch into a tangential account which left me more befuddled than before…

  2. Good point. I think that appearances can be so deceiving in the education system. I’ve known people who seem to party hard and go nuts, but have a strong drive and diligence under the surface that would lead to them pushing through difficult barriers where the more conscientious students might throw up their hands and cry impossible. Embracing the moment, rather than calculating and comparing everything carefully, can be the key to unlocking the hardest puzzles.

    Of course, I’m not trying to say party animals are all like that. Some do just drop out! Your point that competence in one field shouldn’t be generalised, though, is very true.

  3. That was a thought provoking video. The wiley coyote analogy is eye opening. Your observations about people was also refreshing. Ive noticed the same things only in slightly different form. Mainly that those people who in general act the part of a team player, quite often do so only to hide a more sinister side of which they are ashamed. Or the friendly supporter, who falls to pieces during a crisis. It always does well to look beyond the immediate surface when making a judgement.

    I hope my comment isnt strange. Im not a MD or psychologist. Im just a perfectionist who likes to study people. 🙂

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