Print Email

Editor's Commentary on 'Ski Racing: Training for Medicine'

 , April 20, 2015

Collegiality. Discipline. Adaptability. These are vital characteristics of a good physician, and – as we learn in this issue from Michael Chen, a clinical medical student at the University of Utah – also of a good ski racer. 

In his essay “Ski Racing: Training for Medicine,” Michael vividly describes the great elation and challenges of being an accomplished ski racer. He reveals the long hours that go into training for races, and the collegial nature of the dynamics between competitors. He offers glimpses into the fear and satisfaction, and shows how great racers must adapt to the many nuances and variations that race courses often present. 

This is familiar territory for medical professionals. Caring for the ill is often weighty work, and medical trainees quickly learn and feel the discipline that is required of doctors. Though recent work hour reform and health care transformation may be changing the outworkings of that discipline (e.g. shorter hours, more handoffs), they have not changed the fundamental nature of that responsibility.

Collegiality and adaptability are also pivotal issues in medical education. Though educators have known for a long time that both are crucial to good doctoring, this has not always been readily apparent in how trainees are selected and taught. Medical education is often siloed, separated from other allied health professions or interdisciplinary experiences. Teamwork is championed, but actual teams can be fragmented because learners frequently switch and move rotations and clerkships. 

Similarly, adaptability is key in caring for patients with diverse backgrounds, educational levels, and degrees of activation and engagement in their own care. But trainees are often left to their own devices rather than guided towards healthy adaptive responses – giving rise to the accounts of cynicism and moral strife that are far too common in medical education. 

While Chen’s account avoids these complexities, it highlights an important mechanism for addressing them: selecting trainees from diverse backgrounds who have acquired key qualities through “non-traditional” methods. Ski racing has clearly been great training for Chen, and will likely continue to be throughout his career. Other athletic, cultural, and artistic experiences are likely to provide the same for others, many of whom will be important to the future of medicine.

Ultimately, training a workforce – one that can work hard, collaborate with others, and meet patient needs in a rapidly changing healthcare landscape – depends on this: the ability to see connections between medicine and other seemingly unrelated disciplines, and allow lessons from the latter inform the pursuit of the former. 

Joshua M. Liao, MD