HealthFebruary 07, 2020

5 ways to benefit from curiosity in medicine

By: Heidi Moawad, MD

Even if change weren’t a constant in medicine, it would be impossible for anyone to know everything there is to know about medical science. This doesn’t daunt most physicians, who have a deep passion for learning and exploring.

In fact, the American Journal of Medicine argues that curiosity in medicine is “an elemental trait of the practicing physician.” And it’s one whose benefits extend beyond its own satisfaction, potentially leading to improved patient outcomes, career advancement and healthier work-life balance.

While the specific steps you choose to take as you dig deeper into your curiosity in medicine are likely to be dictated by your personality, here are five great options.

1. Get to know your patients

Cultivating a sincere interest in your patients’ lives can help you better understand the underlying issues that affect their health. Engaging in open-ended conversations instead of rushing through rapid-fire or impersonal questions allows patients to tell you what they really care about. A study of patient satisfaction measures published in the American Journal of Managed Care reveals that patients are more likely to express deep emotions like fear or hopelessness when they’re being interviewed than when they’re answering straightforward survey questions.

While it can seem counterintuitive in terms of efficiency, doctors who refine the skill of genuine patient conversation can make more accurate diagnoses. They can capture subtle details of the patient experience to understand what’s really going on with a patient, ultimately creating a better treatment plan to enhance patient care.

2. Embrace new technology

If you’re interested in learning more about or gaining competence in a developing technological advancement in medicine, becoming an early adopter is a great way to satisfy your curiosity. Keep in mind that if you put yourself out there among the first to try a new type of healthcare technology, you’re likely to encounter some “bugs” in the system. But the experience can also make you highly proficient and ready to adapt as the technology improves.

For example, telemedicine is a type of emerging healthcare technology that piques the curiosity of patients and physicians alike. Yet not everyone is interested in being a “guinea pig.” In fact, research published in JMIR Aging shows that many healthcare professionals are somewhat hesitant about telemedicine, even as they also identify a number of potential advantages that they believe will make the approach viable as a future option in patient care. Opting to take the plunge into an emerging healthcare technology sooner rather than later can help pave the way for your colleagues who need to see a positive model before committing themselves.

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3. Dive into research

Of course, you may be curious about aspects of medicine that are not yet known; research is how we find solutions to unanswered questions. Many physicians devote a whole career or a portion of their work to clinical or basic science research. This endeavor involves applying for grant money, hiring a research staff and carving out protected time to plan and carry out research. If you decide to embark on a research career in medicine, you may be able to discover answers that can benefit the medical community as a whole.

4. Explore behind-the-scenes interests

You can even explore your curiosity in medicine on a part-time basis by engaging with companies that need physicians as experts. Through these temporary projects, you can not only earn a little extra income but also learn about the behind-the-scenes decision-making that governs legal issues and payment in medicine. Diversifying your professional profile may also lead to unexpected career opportunities down the line, especially as burnout drives more physicians to look for exits from practice, as the American Medical Association reports.

If you’ve been curious about the guidelines used for insurance authorization determinations, you can do chart reviews. Or if you’ve always wondered about the ins and outs of legal cases, you can take on expert witness work. And if you’ve wondered how new medications are approved, you can take on a stint as an expert for an advisory board.

5. Pursue extracurriculars

You may also want to foster your curiosity outside of the medical field. Over the years, you may develop a number of unexplored interests, from investing to fitness to travel. Many doctors approach extracurricular diversions with the same level of perfectionism they do medicine.

Beyond satisfying your sense of curiosity, maintaining extracurricular pursuits may help you preserve work-life balance and stave off burnout—and even develop perspectives and skills that can translate back into your clinical work.

Harnessing curiosity for career advancement and work-life balance

Following through on your curiosity in medicine is one of the ways that you can advance your career. As you publish your research or become proficient with new technology, you can gain recognition from your peers. Meticulous curiosity about your patients gives you the insight to excel at diagnosis, which can make you highly sought after for referrals.

Just as important, exploring your interests at a deeper level can help you see the big picture in life. Whether you run a research lab, try out new software in your office or talk to your patients about their travels, embracing your curiosity will help you maintain a level of balance. Sticking to only one repetitive task can be monotonous and may be exhausting, even if it doesn’t take up a great deal of time.

Engaging your curiosity in your career or in your life allows you to appreciate the everyday events that form the backbone of your day.

Heidi Moawad, MD
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