Becoming a Craftsman

I just finished watching this inspiring documentary named Jiro Dreams of Sushi recommended by Daniel Pink. It documents master chef Jiro’s obsession with sushi and how he often makes sushi even in his dreams.

Relating back to residency, the last four months have been a tremendous period of growth for me. In many ways, I too am honing my craft of being a doctor in the next few years. Each day, I am improving my history and physical examination skills. I am learning how to better diagnose and treat diseases. Ultimately and hopefully, I’m providing better care for my patients.

My recent review on Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” reiterates this idea that finding success is related to becoming really good at something.  Especially in hospitals where multiple parties are needed to deliver quality healthy care, I am seeing how valuable it is to have a specific set of skills to bring to the table. As a specialist who can offer a procedure or as a generalist who can coordinate complicated care, becoming the best at what you do matters.

So if you have 80 minutes to spare, I highly recommend this excellent documentary. I watched the whole thing free on youtube (watch it before they take it down!). It definitely inspired me to aspire to be a better doctor, to continue reading around my cases and think about how I can care for patients better.

Tales From the Call Room – The Pager

On those rare call nights when things are quiet on the wards, I often find it hard to sleep soundly. The reason is because there is a big elephant in the room – the pager.

The pager is your electronic leash. You learn to hate the pager and you learn to rely on it. Every time it rings I feel the urge to throw it out the window and smash it into a million pieces. Yet at the same time, I’m deathly terrified of missing an important page. If a patient becomes sick or there’s a consult that needs to be seen in the emergency room, the pager – and now more often your smartphone – is often the only way people can reach you.

Even though I’m not a deep sleeper, I still worry that I’ll miss an important page. As a result, I sleep with the pager beside my pillow. My cellphone is also tucked underneath my pillow. It’s very unsettling. It’s the equivalent of sleeping with a time-bomb that can and will go off at any moment. I also sleep with the light on so I don’t fumble around in the dark when the darned thing does go off. In general, I don’t sleep too well in the call room.

I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. One co-resident is such a deep sleeper, she has resorted to using a headband to strap the pager to her forehead so she won’t her pages. I’ve shared similar stories with other residents that when their pager hasn’t beeped in hours, they might send themselves a test page to make sure the thing isn’t broken.

Surely pager paranoia should be be in the DSM-V. It would be a mix of Post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety and depression. Am I the only paranoid one here? Or does anyone feel the same way about their stupid pager?

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Book Review

Readers of this blog may know that I am a long-time reader of the Study Hacks blog by Cal Newport. In fact, a lot of Cal’s posts and books are very insightful and have changed how I approach studying. I would like to think I am a more efficient and effective learner as a result of following some of his ideas. In the past, I have recommended and reviewed his previous books on how to succeed at the university level.

I was privileged enough to have been given an early copy of Cal Newport’s new book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” to review. The title of the book is attributable to a phrase that the comedian Steve Martin said regarding career advice. The basis of his whole book is that “following your passions,” a common adage, can actually be bad advice in building a meaningful career. Instead one should look to more factors than just passion when it comes to figuring out your life.

If How To Become a Straight A Student and How to Win at College revolutionized how students can succeed in university, So Good They Can’t Ignore You has the same possibility of changing the way we approach career choices.

The book itself is compelling and hard to put down once you pick it up. If you’re a fan of the writing of Malcolm Gladwell or Atul Gawande and how they use multiple stories to enrich a overarching theory, Cal uses a similar approach of presenting cases by cases to build up his thesis.

At the core of the book are four rules that one should follow in order to find an enriching and passionate career.

  1. Don’t Follow Your Passion
  2. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Or, the importance of Skill)
  3. Turn Down a Promotion (Or, the Importance of Control)
  4. Think Small, Act Big (Or, the Importance of Mission)

These rules by itself might not mean much at first, but by the time you finish reading this book you will be able to appreciate their significance. Cal has done a good job interviewing a variety of people who have found success in their jobs. He then uses their stories to flesh out and build up his key points.

If you’re a follower of his blog, he revisits the ideas of being a craftsman and the importance of deliberate practice. I was surprised that even something as rigid as medical residency, the book was able to provide some insight and ideas on how I too could apply these ideas in medicine. The material in the book is brand new and is not just reprinted from his blog. In fact, its adds to a deeper understanding of the topics he frequently talks about.


I think Cal Newport has published another incredible book that is valuable for students who are still trying to figure out their life. I would rate it a 4.5/5 and would definitely recommend this book to any recent graduate or people who are still looking for that “dream” job. It will turn a lot of your career advice pre-conceptions upside down, in a good way.

“So Good They Can’t Ignore You” is a book suitable for anyone who is still trying to figure it out. Some of the ideas can even be applied to medical school admissions. From honing a specific craft, becoming a more desirable candidate to finding happiness in your work, this book will definitely stimulate lots of ideas on how to best forge your career.

Tales From the Call Room – Sleeping Pills

A collection of short tales from being on call the last few months


[medaholic] – Hi, this is doctor medaholic returning a page

[Nurse] – Yes. Mr. S has been having difficulties sleeping and would like a sleeping pill.

[medaholic] – I would prefer not to give him any since he came in with a fall and increased confusion. I’ll come by the ward in a bit.


[medaholic] – I just checked Mr. S, he’s pretty sound asleep so I’m not going to write an order for a sleeping pill

[Nurse] – Noooo, you should really wake him up. He seemed really upset and wanted to talk with you

[medaholic] – Hi Mr. S, sorry to wake you up at this hour, is there anything I can do for you?

[Mr. S] – zzzzzz….what…. oh hi there Dr. medaholic, I’m so glad you woke me up. I wanted to tell you that I had difficulty sleeping tonight. Do you think you could give me a sleeping pill to help me get back to sleep now?