A Time for Reflection

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Sometimes, the best cure for a case of the jitters is finding out that you made a difference in someone's life—and allowing yourself to take credit for it.

How do we measure life's successes? The answer to this fairly personal question may be rooted in our upbringing and most likely will continually morph as a result of our experiences. For such deep issues, there is no standard metric. Someone once told me that as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror every day and be satisfied with what you see, then you are doing fine. I have been doing a lot of gazing for the past few weeks trying to figure out if I am okay.

October marked a milestone in my professional career. I reached my first 90 days of continuous work (ha-ha, you can't fire me now!) and the end of my first quarter as a resident. Like certain landmarks in life, this really shook up my world. This is not my first job. I have worked part-time since I was 13 years old (don't tell the government), but there is something entirely different about starting a profession. I am not sure what it is like to get cold feet before getting married, but I have had the shakes for the past three weeks. There is nothing like doing the same thing over, and over, and over again to really make you face yourself and ask, "Do I really enjoy this?"

As a result, I have been reflecting on everything. I stand with my nose right next to the mirror and I analyze the small details of my work—the smoothness of my trimlines, the accuracy of my noting, the appropriateness of my plaster modifications, the endless heating and pushing of plastic. At times I get so close and focus on such minutiae that I forget the purpose of my endeavor. It is exhausting, even maddening, when I dwell on every element, and it really makes work cumbersome.

It is similar to how I used to tell stories—lots of facts and no direction. My stories had no purpose and left everyone bored and uninspired. Luckily, I have changed my style a bit, right? My father taught me that when contemplating any aspect of life—say work, for example—to take a step back and look at the big picture. Taking his advice, I try to shift my focus away from some of the specifics and begin to put things into perspective. What I see now has more to do with whether I take pride in my work. Am I diligent and responsible? Do I have a good theory for what I am doing? Am I progressing? It isn't until I take this point of view that I relax a bit and start enjoying what I am doing. Work has life and meaning.

Unfortunately, much like school, introspection is not the only applicable measure. In the world of O&P residencies, you are rated on a quarterly questionnaire measured by a seven-point scale. However, contrary to an academic setting, these numbers are not a reflection of how many mistakes you've made, but rather a benchmark for self-improvement. Actually, when I am really downhearted about my errors, I have been told more than once, "You're not really an orthotist (prosthetist) until you've screwed up (fill in the name of the project here) at least five times." I realize that improvement through repetition is the only means to success and efficiency, no matter how boring some aspects might seem.

Naturally, my evaluation from my supervising clinician and my own perceptions are important, but my real assessment came from a young woman who rolled into the elevator as I was heading back to work. With a big smile she turned to her doctors and said, "That's the guy who fixed my braces so I can stand without holding on to the parallel bars." Knowing that I was able to make a positive impact by simply looking at the whole system and making a small change was uplifting. That was enough to make me step back, wipe the dust from my eyes, and see an image of a person who is content with his achievements...for the moment at least.

Ronald A. Roiz is a resident at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Illinois. He is a graduate of the MSPO Program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, and will be sharing his experiences as he completes his residency.

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