The Beginner's Gap


Creativity isn’t something that’s talked much about in healthcare. Communication, yes. Science, definitely. Creativity, not so much. That’s something for arty people, musicians, performers, designers, people doing things like that. But I recently came across a different way of describing it that articulates how I see it in my head - creativity is a type of resourcefulness. A way of using what’s available to you to achieve the best possible outcome. When you think of it that way, I hope it’s obvious that creativity abounds in healthcare. It’s essential to providing patient-centred care.

The thing about creative pursuits though, is that mastery requires more than just technical skill and domain knowledge. There’s no shortcut possible. Advancing in your practice is a matter of time and self-reflection…practice really is what gets you closer to perfect. And that can be frustrating when you’re starting out. A guy called Ira Glass described this, which is often referred to as The Gap, which you can hear in the 2 minute video clip below.

I thought I’d rework the quote to relate directly to providing patient-centred care. Because as Austin Kleon describes in Steal Like an Artist, nothing is original anymore anyway so make the most of the influences around you…

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who work in healthcare … we get into it because we want to make things better.

But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re providing care, but you know the care you’re providing isn’t fully meeting their needs within the parameters in which you can provide it, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your high standards— the thing that got you into the game — your standards are still killer, and your standards are good enough that you can tell that the care you’re providing is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who delivers quality patient-centred care, they went through a phase of years where they had really good standards and they could tell the care they were providing wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a broad scope of work. Put yourself in different settings so that over time you know you’re going to see a different aspect of care and ways in which it is delivered. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the care you’re providing will be as good as your ambitions.

It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?