Mind your mindset

Healthcare Science is a vocation. It takes years of hard work just to become minimally competent. As time passes, the enthusiasm and gratitude we start  with can give way to disillusionment as our efforts are only truly rewarded at the end of our training. Well, what if there’s something wrong with this mindset?

Motivation as a myth

Writing competencies is a routine part of STP training. We all have room for improvement in our writing process, but getting started has always been tough for me. I would have the best intentions and dive face-first at this work. But a few seconds in front of the blank page and I couldn’t produce a word – I lacked motivation.

Whether you’re an academic or a poet, writing is a creative process. A misconception about creative work is that great ideas strike gifted individuals like lightning. Supercharged, they work tirelessly in one sitting to produce the masterpiece we praise. Once the shock is over, they twiddle their thumbs waiting for the next strike. As ridiculous as this sounds, we often behave like it’s true. We wait to feel like starting that essay, day after day, until an upcoming deadline stresses us into action… Sound familiar?

It helps to check our language. In his book “The Motivation Myth”, Jeff Haden reviews studies on the title topic: Behavioural scientists now attribute motivation to the dopamine hit we get when we observe ourselves making progress. This means that motivation is the result of success, not a precondition to it. If you want to feel motivated towards a goal, do something towards that goal! This seemed counter intuitive to me at first but I tried it. The key was deciding a minimum amount of words I could write daily (everyone can manage 10) and sticking to it regardless of quality. Building a routine instead of holding out for motivation has rescued my relationship with writing.

Start with why

Maybe your issue isn’t getting started. Some projects are less engaging than others but trust me, viewing these parts of training as a box-ticking exercise will quickly deflate you. In my experience it’s rarely true. My advice is best illustrated with a story.

When the English architect Christopher Wren visited the building site of Paul’s Cathedral in London, he approached three workmen and asked what they were doing. “I’m cutting a piece of stone,” said the first. “I’m earning five shillings twopence a day,” said the second. The third man replied, “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a beautiful cathedral.” They all have the same job but the third man’s attitude meant that going to work everyday was a completely different experience to that of his peers.

The STP application requires us to demonstrate our understanding of the NHS values. How often do we lay out our own values? To adopt the third man’s perspective, you have to start with why. This instruction has been popularised by a book of the same title, used by the most successful leaders and organisations in the world. To ‘start with why’ is to align your actions with your values and make every task on the journey to your goal meaningful, no matter how small. Defining your ‘why’ is a very personal process of questioning and discovery. A basic step is to put your work in the context of something meaningful to you at every opportunity. And much like our workman, it can help to know that a cathedral is being built in the first place.

The big picture

At the annual STP induction day we get a clear perspective of where we are in our careers.: The NHS is as reliant on Healthcare Scientists as any other health profession and we are the lucky few embarking on a career of innovation and service delivery in modern clinical disciplines. This clarity fades over time but we need a birds-eye view of our professions if we’re ever going to shape the future of them. Ask any experienced healthcare scientist how their profession has changed in the last decade and they’ll have a number of stories to tell you.

It’s not always obvious, but the world is watching. The NHS is the largest publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-access healthcare system on the planet. The NHS has shaped healthcare systems around the world through research, education and accreditation. This means an improvement in your local service has the potential to build the evidence base that affects healthcare practices worldwide.

Our careers are significant for these reasons and more. It never hurts to keep connected with the big picture. How? Start by asking more questions. The bigger the better. What you’ll find is objective proof that completing your training is the first step in a meaningful career.

Keep it up

The STP training scheme is competitive because it’s a unique opportunity. We’re a highly specialised workforce and the backbone of countless patient care pathways. It’s challenging, but there’s a lot to be said for framing our mindsets. In the past year I’ve learned to work consistently, to start with ‘why’ and to keep the big picture in my mind. And don’t forget, whenever things get tough you can always e-mail your nearest trainee network or the National School of Healthcare Science for support. From one trainee to another: Keep it up!

Author: Nana Mensah

I'm a Trainee Clinical Bioinformatician working in the National Genomic Medicine Service at Guy's Hospital. (www.nanamensah.co.uk)

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