Mind your mindset

All streams of Healthcare Science are deep and complex. It takes years of hard work just to become minimally competent. With time, the excitement, enthusiasm and gratitude we begin our training with can sometimes give way to disillusionment. We expect that the payoff of this long-term effort comes at the end of the programme when we are fully registered. In an STP plot twist, I’ve concluded that to face the challenges of the STP, it’s better to look for that payoff in the here and now.

Motivation as a myth

Providing written evidence for competencies is a big part of the STP. While we all have room for improvement in our writing, getting started has always been tough for me. Sometimes it was simply because I didn’t have plan in place. I would try to dive in to writing with nothing but a vague brief. More often, the difficulty could be described as a lack of motivation.

All writing is a creative process, whether you are an academic or a poet. A misconception about creative works is that ideas for them strike gifted people like lightning. They are then inspired to work tirelessly and the result of their effort is the finished product we praise. Outside of this time, they twiddle their thumbs waiting for the next strike. Of course this sounds ridiculous, but it’s easy to behave like this is a fact. I kept expecting to feel like starting another day, an upcoming deadline stressed me into action… Sound familiar?  To overcome this we should first fix our language.

In his book “The Motivation Myth”, Jeff Haden describes studies that 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. So if you want to feel motivated towards a goal, do something towards that goal! If this sounds counter-intuitive, you may be having the same reaction as me. While it has taken time to find a consistent writing routine that I’m comfortable with, I’ve found building the habit of starting has gone a long, long way.

Start with why

Now maybe you don’t have trouble starting to write. Sometimes it’s difficult because some projects aren’t as interesting to us as others. I think every trainee can relate. I try to avoid the trap of seeing these parts of the STP as box-ticking exercises because this will deflate you faster than you can close Onefile. In my experience it’s rarely actually true. My advice to overcome this is best illustrated by a story.

The English architect Christopher Wren visited the building site of Paul’s Cathedral in London where he asked three workmen 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.” For this wise gentleman, 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 reflect on our own values? To adopt the workman’s perspective, you have to start with why. This instruction comes from a popular book 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. Try to put your work in the context of something meaningful to you wherever you can. Like our workman, it can help to know that there is a cathedral being built in the first place.

Seeing the big picture

At the annual induction day held in Birmingham, trainees get a clear perspective of where they are in their careers. The sentiment from those talks, which is extremely important, naturally fades over time: The NHS is as reliant on Healthcare Scientists as any other health profession and you are the lucky few embarking on a journey that sets you up for a career of innovation and service delivery in evolving clinical disciplines. We have to escape the static view of our professions if we are 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. We are working in the largest publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-access healthcare system on the planet. Any improvement in to NHS services has the potential to affect on healthcare practices worldwide. The NHS has shaped many national health systems, through research, education and accreditation.

Our careers are significant for all of these reasons and more. To keep connected with the bigger picture, ask more questions. The bigger the better. The aim is to gather objective proof that your portfolio is a small step on a long, rewarding journey in healthcare.

In summary

The STP is a unique opportunity and that’s a big part of what makes it so competitive. We are a highly specialised workforce that forms the backbone of countless patient care pathways. It’s challenging on many levels, but there’s a lot to be said for framing our mindsets. In the past year I’ve learned to reap the rewards of working consistently, remembering my ‘why’ and keeping the big picture in my mind. Don’t forget, if things get really tough, you can always e-mail your nearest trainee network or the National School 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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