Lately I’ve heard similar comments from different colleagues and it’s caused me to do some thinking. What is it that keeps me “in the game”?  What fuels my passion for my work,  my desire to continuously grow and change?

In any field, including health care, it is easy to become complacent.  Do the job, make no mistakes, go home and refuel so you’re ready for the next day.  I’ve had discussions with many colleagues over the past few weeks who are feeling burned out, unable to make the impact they would like, some basically waiting for retirement.

It’s caused me to think about the next 25 years of my working life.  How do I want to live them out as a professional?  What do I enjoy about health care and Pharmacy?  Tough questions, but I started small, thinking about what I enjoy on a day-to-day basis in my work.  Well….I’ll admit that it’s not the paper work, dealing with insurance companies or the myriad of technical functions that need to be done.  What I enjoy is engagement.

I love to debate the finer points of treatment strategy with colleagues. I love educating patients. I love solving therapeutic problems and making a difference in someone’s life.

These are the fuel for my passion.  I must admit though that there usually isn’t enough of that fuel in my daily work to sustain me.

Shared by Scalino via Flickr

Often when I work with colleagues there isn’t time to discuss patient care or innovative practice.  And a lot of the time I am working alone.  There isn’t much I can do about either of those circumstances.  Health Care is a business and the bottom line always stands.

I have found though, another source that was a big turning point for me in renewing my interest and passion for health care.  Since I started tapping into social media I find I am fuelled up and energized by the connection I make with other professionals and the constant access to innovative learning.  The networking I do with other professionals peaks my interest, has me exploring areas of health care I never would have previously, and keeps me active in “sharpening the saw” as Stephen Covey would say.

That may sound strange as social media is usually thought of as a way to connect and “chat” with friends.  I, however, have been using social media, primarily Twitter, to tap into a vast stream of professionals interested in doing the same thing I am. That is sharing ideas and resources and not being afraid to disagree and hash out a topic.

My twitter connections are varied in the fields of pharmacy, medicine, nursing, education, politics and other areas of personal interest. The posting these fine people do provides me with a continually changing, challenging and interesting access to learning.

One of the components I love about Twitter is the ability to hold the equivalent of an online meeting. Usually called a meet-up or chat. Some of the ones I participate in for example are #meded which are folks interested in improving medical education.  Also #hcsm which stands for Health Care Social Media.  These meet-ups involve interested parties discussing  the same topic at the same time.

I’ve also followed conferences on Twitter such as #med2.0 which was held at Stanford this year. Attendants at a conference send tweets out about what they are hearing and learning (along with pictures, slides, even video) and I following along can engage in real-time discussion with participants.

Bottom line for me is that I need to be engaged to find work interesting. If I don’t try to solve a patient’s problem, explore therapeutics or learn some new pharmacology, it’s not interesting to me and I’m just putting in time.  I need to keep expanding my world.  And with social networking that expansion has become global.

Tweeps on the Job

5 months ago if someone would’ve told me that I would be networking and using Twitter in my job, I would have laughed.  Not only did I think that Twitter was a silly  social networking site for following what the latest Hollywood stars were doing, but I actually had no idea how it worked.

cc licence flickr mkhmarketing.wordpress.com

cc licence flickr

5 months later and a not too steep learning curve has landed me with an invaluable resource.

For those of you who don’t know what Twitter involves, it is a networking tool to connect to others around the globe.  How it differs from Facebook is that you connect to people you don’t necessarily know but would like to connect to for reasons of common, professional or personal interest.  The “connecting” involves being able to read the posts or “Tweets” that those persons you follow put out there in the Twitter stream.

What that looks like is a constant moving stream of “posts” from people you’ve chosen to “follow”.   Posts can be links to learning articles, pictures, links to blogs, almost anything.  So, your Twitter stream is personalized to your choices of people to follow.

Those who know me would not be surprised to hear that I have no stars on my list of people I am connected to on Twitter (or Tweeps as they are sometimes called).  What I do have is a list of professionals in all branches of healthcare, education, politics and various other disciplines who provide me with a constantly changing source of learning.

There are days where I take a couple of minutes to check my Twitter feed and I stumble upon an article that answers just the question I’ve been rattling around with.  Other times a post has me thinking in a way that I would never have ventured into.

So, Twitter has become a learning network for me as well as a resource for my practice.  I am, in an instant, in contact with others not only in pharmacy, but in medicine, palliative care, cardiology, continuing education, etc.  Here’s an example of how Twitter has been invaluable in my job.

I was filling in at a rural pharmacy one afternoon when I had a patient bring me a prescription for a new drug.  When I checked the patient records I saw he was also on an anti-arrhythmia drug (for an abnormal heartbeat). Something bothered me about the prescription but nothing was flagging on my computer.  I searched all my usual references and could come up with no reason for my uncomfortable feeling.  I decided to give the very ill patient only a few tablets and planned to call him in a few hours to see how he was doing.  A few minutes later I grabbed my lunch and pulled up my Twitter

by Fillmore Photography

feed to peruse.  There in front of me, posted by 2 connections, was the FDA warning about the drug possibly making a certain type of arrhythmia worse.  The warning had just come out the day before, but in the US not Canada.   I called the patient’s doctor and discovered that the patient indeed had that type of arrhythmia so I was able to contact him and stop him from taking the medication.

Twitter has also provided me with valuable overseas connections.  Last week I received a call about a child receiving a potential overdose with a medication only found in the United Kingdom.  After futilely searching references and the internet,  and not finding the information I needed, I sent a Direct Message over Twitter to two pharmacists in the U.K. and in a matter of minutes they sent me all the information I needed.

It has taken time to develop the relationships I have made on Twitter but I have come to value them and depend on them in some cases.  I know that if I need to bounce a professional question off a colleague they are right there, just a click away.

And have I changed my profile and added a few stars to vicariously follow?  Afraid not.  Well, unless you count Rick Mercer as a Star.  Who says you can’t also have a few laughs?

Face to Face

I love technology.  Facebook, Twitter, texting, Skype…..  All these tools have improved my professional networking and kept me in contact with friends and family that I otherwise easily lose touch with.

As with most people, I get busy with my family and work and can easily lapse into not really knowing what is going on in the lives of those I care about.  Since I started texting and using social networking sites I can make quick contact with friends while I’m standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in a hockey rink.

Despite this great advancement in quantity of contact, I have come to realize that the quality of contact when using technology needs to be balanced with the convenience.

Texting or messaging over Facebook and Twitter, while quick and convenient, cannot match the connection of face to face contact.

When I am talking with a friend face to face there are elements to the communication that are intangible but so essential to connection.

When we laugh together, grasp each other’s hands, share a meal or simply sit in each other’s presence we bond on a primal level that electronic communication cannot replace.  All of our senses are engaged, we read each other’s body language, facial expression and tone of voice.  We connect on a level that is intangible yet essential to our human nature.

Even when I use Skype to “see” a friend while I talk with them, there are elements missing in this form of communication.  While I can hear the tone of their voice or interpret a look or gesture onscreen, neither can replace the warmth and bonding of in-person communication.

What I have come to realize is that I need to be deliberate in maintaining my relationships.  I need to choose the giving of time to maintain relationship with those whom I value and keep in my inner circle. When weekends role around or weeknights when I am feeling “done” with the day, I realize that I can’t just rely on social media and texting for catching up with those I care about.  That the giving of time to an important friendship can actually “recharge” my batteries, keep me engaged with the world of another and balance my preoccupation with my own life and work.  And when it comes to time, I am learning that what can take a half hour of back and forth by text because I am distracted by other things, can take a mere 5 minutes over coffee.

When face to face we understand each other more clearly and receive a deeper sense of who the other person really is.  And only in face to face time can we really show that we are listening to each other.

I love the relationships that I’m able to build using technology but nothing beats real life face-to-face.

Keeping the End in Mind

Last night I stayed up late to watch Jack Layton’s funeral.  During the day I did see pictures and read the Eulogy on line and the many Tweets from Canadians as the funeral was taking place.  I figured I probably didn’t need to sit and watch the event itself  but am very glad I did.

There were many amazing tributes about Jack’s life that touched me, but the one thing I woke up thinking about this morning is the fearlessness with which Jack approached his death.

When his cancer came back, Layton sat down with his wife and his pastor, Brent Hawkes,  and planned out his funeral.  Not, as Hawkes said, because he was giving up or because he was ready to die, quite the opposite.  But he wanted to be ready for the end, whenever that would come.

 “Jack was in good spirits and said, ‘I am going to fight this cancer, I am going to beat it, but we need to have plans in place, just in case,’” said Hawkes, pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church.

Not everyone can look at their own mortality and acknowledge it as a real part of life and only a matter of time.  When faced with the possibility of death due to illness I have seen people respond in several ways.  I have seen those who spend their last days angry, or bitter and resentful and I have seen the opposite.  People who embrace the end and do all they can to express their love for those around them.

What does that mean for me?  That’s what I woke up thinking about today.  We will all die, and even those of us who are in good health have the possibility of sudden death through accident or
tragedy.  None of us knows how much time we truly have left.

This reminded me of Stephen Covey’s line to “Begin with the end in mind”.  Covey speaks of this in terms of remembering your goals and if you keep the end in sight it gives you the courage to keep striving for them.  It does however apply to the end of our lives as well.  To keep the end in mind, the fact that I am mortal and only have a limited time to my life, keeps me focused on what really matters in my life.

To wake up each morning and acknowledge that the day stretched before me is a gift……that is the way I want to live my life.  To keep in mind the end.  That I don’t really know how many days like today I will have.  So if I am stepping over toys, wiping up spills, and dealing with yet another unhappy patient at work, I can be grateful that I am here.  Thankful that I am able to help that patient, wipe my child’s tears, kiss the hurts and referee the fights.

Being able to look my own mortality in the face keeps me grateful. And I believe that gratefulness is the root of happiness.  I cannot be truly thankful for my life without being happy.