Medicine is similar to dancing. Learning from mistakes and working as part of a team are necessary for success.
One of my favorite dance professors once told me that what we learn in the studio is best applied outside of it. Through my ballet practice, I’ve learned many lessons that I carry with me as a physician-in-training.
I spent much of my first year of ballet making mistakes. In fact, I like to say that I spent more time getting up than standing up. My first year in medical school felt similar. As I navigated learning how to do a physical exam, write a problem list, and suture, I reminded myself that the mistakes I learned from during my first-year of dancing set me up for a performance I was proud to give on stage years later.
In choreography class, I learned how to express and interpret emotions without using words. Most importantly, perhaps, I learned that silence is also a melody. In medicine, listening to what is unspoken is equally valuable as listening to what is being said. Sitting in silence may be one of the most challenging and important skills to develop.
While preparing for my first recital, I learned that even a solo performance is a team sport; choreographers, pianists, conductors, and costume designers are only some of the people involved in putting on a show. And while the audience may only see a few minutes of a perfected craft, it takes a lifetime of preparation, knowledge, and skills to step onto the stage. In medicine, many members of the medical team come together to give patient care. And even though a patient may only see one or two of these members, their care wouldn’t be possible without the team working behind the scenes.
Navigating the last two years of medical school and looking forward to a lifetime of medical training, both formal and informal, I find myself reflecting on the words that I heard in the dance studio six years ago: the skills I learned in dance truly are better applied outside of class. Below are some of the dance lessons I hope to carry with me as I continue my medical education:
1. It’s never too late to learn a new skill.
I was terrified when I walked into my first dance class. I was similarly scared interacting with a patient for the first time. But commitment to lifelong learning is essential to giving exceptional patient care no matter how intimidating a new skill may seem.
2. Learn from your mistakes.
Mistakes are usually incredible learning opportunities, but only if you reflect on the lessons that they teach you.
3. Embrace silence.
Silence can be uncomfortable, but sitting in discomfort is often necessary in choreography and in patient care.
4. Medicine is a team sport.
Dance has taught me that my individual efforts play into a larger goal and that a group is only as good as its weakest member.
5. There’s no dress rehearsal in medicine.
There will never be two same patient interactions, and understanding the importance of every patient encounter is necessary for giving excellent care.
I have a lot more to learn in medicine and in dance, but I hope to continue to carry these lessons as I grow into my new role on a much larger stage than I’ve ever stepped onto before.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.