To become a cardiologist is not an easy task. Getting through medical school, residency and then getting accepted into the most competitive fellowship program out there is tough. All cardiologists must be somewhat academically strong to get to this point, yet there are certain things that make some cardiologists stand out from others. Make these qualities your goals as a cardiologist or clinician and you will be doing a good service to your patients. Some seem obvious, but unfortunately may be lacking in many practitioners out there.
1. Confidence-to-knowledge ratio
This is perhaps the most important trait of a good clinician. You need to have a low confidence-to-knowledge ratio, meaning a low to moderate level of confidence in the setting of a large amount of knowledge.
Think about this: The overconfident clinician thinks he or she knows the right diagnosis and treatment (overconfident), but is completely wrong (poor knowledge). This is going to result in great harm to patients.
If a clinician lacks knowledge but also lacks confidence (realizes their knowledge gaps), when encountering a clinical situation that he or she is not sure of, the clinician will ask for help and eventually get the right thing done to take care of the patient.
The ideal situation is the person who has low confidence (frequently asks for help, such as consulting a specialist), but actually has the knowledge to make the right diagnosis and do the correct thing for the patient. So when a challenging case comes in, this type of clinician makes the right diagnosis and initiates the right treatment plan, but calls in the specialist to confirm the right thing was done and asks for advanced help, such as performing an invasive procedure or surgery.
So, don’t be the cat who sees the lion in the mirror. Ask for help if you are at all unsure about what to do — this will result in the best outcome for the patient.
2. Care about your patients
This is crucial to taking good care of patients, but seems so simple. If you entered the medical field to have a stable job with good income, but really don’t have compassion and empathy toward the people you take care of, it will show and be quite obvious.
Health care workers talk all the time and say things like, “He is just in it for the money,” which of course is not a good thing. On the other hand, I frequently hear praises when a clinician shows emotion. Read this article about an ER doctor who cried over the death of his patient. The respect this doctor has been given for simply showing that he cares about his patients has been tremendous.
Unfortunately, the most important part of medical training that teaches clinicians to care about their patients actually occurs in childhood and comes from your patients and the values that they instilled in you. Learning to care about your patients can be done, but is quite emotionally taxing.
3. Don’t do too much
I am personally guilty of this. As a cardiologist in training, I was excited to gain as much knowledge as I could, so I decided to take eight different board certifications. I graduated cardiology fellowship with a bunch of meaningless certificates since I realized that having a board certification does not qualify you as an expert at all.
It is much better to choose one or two areas and focus on that specialty or subspecialty. Personally, I have focused on cardiac CT and echocardiography, and have left behind my vascular medicine board certifications and let the vascular surgeons see my patients with significant vascular disease.
Clinicians are only human and can only do so much. We may want to take on more tasks, but it is much more important to be really good and an expert at a couple of things, rather than being just OK at many things.
4. Take your time and teach your patients
As you can see, I have a passion for teaching cardiology, writing all the content on Learn the Heart and giving multiple lectures for students and interns.
The same holds true for my patients. I take the time to educate them about their disease. They really appreciate when a clinician can explain things at a level they can understand. It is amazing how many doctors still just tell the patient to “take this medication” or “get this test done” without explaining at all why.
5. Keep learning
The practice of medicine at any level (doctor, nurse, paramedic, etc.) is always a challenge. You have to keep up with the latest research and advances. Don’t let all that knowledge that you learned in training fade away.
Make it a habit to routinely review whatever material you need to stay on top of your game. I noticed about 3 years into my clinical practice, many of the details that I learned in fellowship started fading out of my mind. I now make it routine to take a complete cardiology board review course every 2 years and alternate courses for cardiac imaging, as well.
Before you know it, you will find that much of your academic knowledge will be leaking away from your brain and you will fall into the path of the busy practicing clinician that is just barely getting along instead of one who is completely on top of the latest guidelines and treatments in medicine. I challenge you to do more continuing medical education than you are required to do.
Be a spectacular clinician
Follow these five rules and you will not only be well respected by your peers and your patients, but, most importantly, you will also take excellent care of your patients.
What else makes an excellent cardiologist or clinician? Join the conversation by commenting below.
- by Steven Lome, DO, RVT