Is it possible that immersing yourself in surf, travel and good times can make you a better health professional? Continuing professional development (CPD) is a staple of modern health care. It is how we learn about new treatments and stay up to date with optimal practice techniques. With the current rate of innovation in pharmacy and healthcare, it is an integral part of being the best we can be. As important as CPD is to optimizing professional practice, I want you to consider another kind of CPD… continuing personal development. To demonstrate this concept, I am going to relate it to my life as a pharmacist.
Ponder the following statement for a moment: “Better people make better pharmacists.”
It is a hard statement to refute. Those pharmacists who are friendlier, happier, more compassionate, and possess better communication skills will generally be able to provide better patient care. The other CPD I am referring to is Continuing Personal Development, and for some it may mean taking time to distance yourself from being a pharmacist and focusing on becoming a more experienced, more informed human being.
Continuing Personal Development is not a measurable concept and it can mean different things to different people. I would, however, argue it is vital for best practice. My main advice for pharmacists (or anyone, for that matter) out there is to do things that inspire you, intrigue you, challenge you, and define you as a person. It doesn’t matter too much about what the activity, experience, or hobby is–what is most important is a good perspective and positive reflection on how it can improve you as a person and the impact this has on your practice. I have worked as a surf guide in northern Nicaragua. I spent over a year in Latin America surfing, playing music, learning Spanish and road tripping. I have just completed the first of what I imagine will be many snow seasons. In the process I have gathered hundreds of stories and the primary focus has been living life to the full and maintaining happiness.
Continuing personal development is a personal endeavor and, as a result, the path that each of us forge is bound to have different journeys and experiences. Whatever your experience is a key component for getting the most of your personal development is possessing an open mind geared towards seizing opportunities. Any good opportunity should offer you a chance to learn, to see something new or from a different perspective, push you outside of your comfort zone and also build on your existing skill set. These opportunities may be work related, but there are so many other things that can also fulfill these criteria.
Of all the things I’ve done these last few years, the most profound and influential CPD I have had was learning Spanish as a second language. It opened up a wide range of opportunities and allowed me to communicate with 400-odd million new people. There were various positive impacts it had on improving my professional practice as well. Most of my Spanish progress came from picking people’s brains, striking up conversations with locals, and pressuring myself to be able to find and purchase necessary items and building from there.
Trying to learn a language in my 20s definitely wasn’t the easiest thing I have done, yet it feels like one of the most rewarding. I can’t imagine a much stronger tool to inspire empathy toward those speaking English as a second language than to put yourself in the same position of trying to communicate in a second language yourself. It takes a lot of work to understand and be understood. You will have difficult conversations where you can’t quite express yourself exactly how you want to. At times, this can be an uncomfortable feeling, but I can tell you from experience that if you persevere with it you should see your ability to communicate with everybody improve.
Bill Nye, The Science Guy, made a very good point when he said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” This notion emphasizes that everyone you meet has the ability to teach you something and to shape the way you view the world. It might not always be something tangible, and sometimes it might not be positive. From my experience, I have found that traveling is an excellent way to get inspired and expose yourself to different ideas and life lessons.
So do I think the life of travel and chasing the dream has helped me develop into a better health professional? There isn’t a straightforward answer, because it is hard to predict a sliding doors-type scenario and determine where I’d be had I taken the more conventional path. These experiences have exposed me to countless people that have inspired me to grow my skill set in different ways and apply myself to more creative endeavors. I feel like a broad range of life experiences makes it easier to find common ground with others and build a more personal level of rapport. My opinions as a health professional have been shaped more by what I’ve seen and experienced, rather than what I am simply told, and as a result they have a lot more conviction. Basically, I feel the positives far outweigh any perceivable negatives of taking some time to follow your dreams.
Last year I had an interview with a prospective employer that asked me where I saw myself in five years. This common question focuses on the end goal. Rather than simply thinking where you’ll be, give consideration to how you plan on getting there and what you want to do over those five years. Keep your mind open and don’t just focus on where you hope your career will take you. Think about potential travels, about making new friends, trying new things and saying yes to opportunities that might lead you in a different direction than first thought. Most importantly, you only live once… so make sure you enjoy the ride.