What I've Learned in 30 Years

What I’ve Learned in 30 Years in Practice


30 years is a long time to do any one thing, and many times after so long, you’re ready for a change, ready to move on. However, my 30 years in neurosurgery have been some of the best:  helping patients through tough medical diagnoses and life-improving surgeries. The years have also presented me with some of the greatest challenges as well. Reflecting on the past 30 years, I can pinpoint some of the greatest lessons learned, applicable to not just neurosurgeons, but anyone’s daily life.


In the early days of your career, you put in the extra time and to prove (maybe just to yourself) that you have what it takes. You work long hours and take on hard jobs to move your way up. It takes grit and determination, and to get where you want, it will take patience and perseverance. It’s also true that while the hard work is important, you need to use the resources around you. Make friends and mingle with those you work with. These people can teach you, coach you, mentor you, and when needed, they will advocate for you.


I’ve also found that adaptability is crucial to your success. Strong processes and good ethics can’t be trifled with, but you still need to be flexible. As surgeons we are working with real people and you need to be adaptable to their unique wants and needs as long as it doesn’t compromise your work. In order to be at your best, to be most adaptable, most logical, more prepared for any task, it’s always important to consider sleep and being refreshed. Never make important decisions when you’re hungry, anxious, tired or feeling pessimistic. So many decisions at the operating table are life-and-death, it’s crucial to be be well-rested and keep your head clear.


It’s true that days off are never really days off when you own your own business. It’s important to accept this as fact, but then to learn to find balance. Examine your time closely and determine when you can “check out” for a while, but know the value of checking in at appropriate times and managing your business effectively and efficiently while still finding time for you. Very easily personal life and work life can become one in the same. Work hard to respect family time and purposefully make time for your loved ones; they are your biggest fans and your greatest support. Never take them for granted.


Just like your family, your staff and patients are valuable too. Show them. Treat them right and don’t cheap out. The truth is the bargain basement of medical supplies are horrible, and we all know it. Buying the discounted version of chairs makes for unhappy people, and certainly unhappy customers.


Another important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s crucial to know what you’re good at and learn to stay in your lane. Many people struggle to please everyone - patients, other professionals, and more. You can’t be everything to everyone. When you branch too far from the things you know well, you open yourself up to liability and decreased quality. Make sure to stay focused, do what you do best and don’t be afraid that someone else is going to pass you by with some new fad. Fads fade, quality work and customer service will always be in fashion.


Throughout the years, some lessons have come easily and some were harder to absorb. But the lesson that I have grown from most, in both my personal and professional life has to do with failure and recovery. If you fail at something, whether it’s finding the right distributer or hiring the wrong person, learn from it and recover as quickly as possible. Don’t wallow but instead find a better solution and move forward. If you are always learning from your failures and you keep moving, you can focus on what’s next and what’s important, not what didn’t work. The people who choose to recover from their mistakes and the people who are willing to prudently take risks often come out ahead of those who always play it safe and those who focus too deeply on past performance.