EM Mindset: Matt Dawson – The Ideal EM Mindset

Author: Matt Dawson, MD, RDMS, RDCS (Director of Point of Care Ultrasound, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky, www.ultrasoundpodcast.com, @ultrasoundpod) // Editors: Alex Koyfman, MD (@EMHighAK) and Manpreet Singh, MD (@MPrizzleER)

Emergency medicine is a very unique specialty that requires a certain mindset.  Many of us fell in love with the Emergency Department the first time we worked a shift as a medical student, but just because we’re passionate about the specialty doesn’t mean we’re any good at it.  It takes work to develop the right mindset over time.  Passion for the practice of EM is a great start, but it’s just a start.  My opinion of what makes up the ideal EM mindset is:

  1. Compassion
  2. Humility
  3. Curiosity
  4. A sense of humor
  5. Courage

Compassion – Without compassion, all of your other skills, intelligence, and positive characteristics are a total waste. You must care for… and about the patients you see and they should be able to tell that you care.  The practice of emergency medicine is too difficult to continue to do it and do it well without really caring about your patients and what happens to them.

The truth is, though, this can be difficult.  It sounds natural and cliché, but it’s something you must remind yourself of at 0400 in the morning after 3 night shifts in a row when you go in to see the patient who has had chronic back pain for 6 months.  No, it’s not an emergency, but it’s really important to this person… for some reason that is not clear to you.  Personally, in times like this I try and imagine that this is a family member of mine.  I give them the benefit of the doubt, realize there’s probably nothing I can really do for them other than reassurance, and then try to do my absolute best job of that.  If it was my mother I would certainly want someone to listen and really try to figure out a way to help if any way possible.  After several years of practicing this will be a much more difficult part of your job than making that great crashing patient save.  Focus, take a deep breath, and be compassionate.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

–Dalai Lama

If you are interested in reading the rest of this and other EM Mindset pieces, please see “An Emergency Medicine Mindset,” a collection evaluating the thought process of emergency physicians. This book is available as ebook and print on Amazon.


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