Let’s Talk About Feedback

Week 18

November 3-9, 2014

Life is lovely with those tests behind me. Before I jump into the the meat of the post, let’s talk about feedback.

WARNING: what I have to say about feedback is not in response to a singular event in the past 24 hours. It is really in response to the culture of Case, medical school, and life. We are constantly being critiqued and critiquing ourselves, and these are a few thoughts I have about feedback.

1) Feedback is personal whether you like it or not. Have you seen You’ve Got Mail? Nora Ephron in her genius wrote a line by Meg Ryan where she responds to Tom Hank’s  original remark, “It wasn’t personal. It’s business,” with this:

All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?”

Feedback is personal because I am a person, and you are a person. There is nothing wrong with it being personal because it is. What is the problem is when feedback is not given with kindness or respect. By trying to de-personalize feedback, people think they have the license to say whatever garbage they want, that isn’t how it works, kids. So when giving feedback, remember you are talking to a person.

You've Got Mail.
You’ve Got Mail.

2) Feedback should be based on evidence gathered by observation (this takes TIME). Sometimes, people are too quick to give feedback. If someone makes a mistake, it is important to see if there is a pattern to their actions. If there is a PATTERN then you can give advice that may not be taken negatively. One of the best ways for people to improve is for them to recognize the error in their ways. We have to guide people to it, and that works best if you have an ample supply of evidence to back up your claims.

3) Take that feedback, even if it is nonsense thoughtfully and not defensively. You look cooler and more in control of your life.

4) Constructive criticism does not = being a butt-head. People will like you more.

I’m gonna get off my soapbox, but I find this to be crazily important!

Monday: Thank you, Makinen

Block 3 is all about biochemistry. When I was in college, biochemistry was essentially hell on earth. Easily hardest class I had ever taken. It was taught by the legendary Professor Marvin Makinen. He has a wikipedia page because he is so amazing. I had heard many things about Professor Makinen before starting his biochemistry course. I heard that he had received a medical doctorate at UPenn but never practiced, a PhD from Oxford in philosophy, founded the human rights department at UChicago and was definitely accused of espionage during the Cold War. Biochemistry was tough because it was so detailed, and he had the highest expectations for the students. One time he asked me what the most difficult part of taking the course was, and I said that in the midst of all the pathways from pentose-phosphate shuttles to transamination to the urea cycle, I felt I could not memorize everything and had difficulty pinpointing what was important to learn. To that, he winked and quoted Einstein saying, “Science is in the details.” Which was code for, “Tolu, you’ve just got to work harder.” Later, he told me that in medical school no one was going to give me a study guide of what to just know. A good student is one who can decide what is important and what is less so. That class whipped me into shape, and when starting this block, I can’t help but think of him and that monstrous class curved to a B-. Despite the struggle, seeing biochemistry again excites me because it reminds me of how much I grew the first time I took it. Also in MEDICAL SCHOOL NOT EVERYTHING IS MEMORIZED AND THINGS ARE MORE BIG PICTURE. There is hope, folks. And, being challenged is one of the best ways to be prepared for what is coming next.

Tuesday: Sexual Assault and Thoughts on Rape Culture

For FCM last week, this was the topic.  My FCM group had a fantastic conversation about what we heard from rape survivors, counsellors and forensic nurses earlier on in the morning. I’m really thankful for them. For some reason, people are talking about cat-calling a lot in the media. I am not sure what has spear headed this, but I appreciate it. As someone who is/has been cat-called since she was 13, no matter what she is wearing, I’m glad this idiotic behavior is the subject of so many conversations. Despite the depressingly hilarious  Buzzfeed videos or CNN video of that wack-job defending men who cat-call on the subject, it’s really messed up that people verbally or physically disresepect the bodies of others everyday. It is something, I will never understand about human beings.

I really loved how a rape survivor quoted Margret Atwood saying, “Men fear that women will laugh at them. Women fear men will kill them.” Too real. Too real.

Wednesday: Worst day of lecture, wow. 

Not much to say on this front besides, I should have stayed home. Nonetheless, week 1 of block 3 was better than week 1 of block 2. Good teaching doesn’t happen everyday.

Thursday: Lots of PD and Babysitting

FULL PHYSICAL EXAM. I definitely was the most nervous for this exam. It did not help that my standardized patient was a very large man with an aggressive beard. He was nice enough to me, but there is always that moment right before asking about their past medical history where I go blank for just a second. I am generally very professional, but I felt so out of sorts that I was cracking jokes with the patient in order to dissolve my on unease which was funny but not always the best. Confidence comes with time, and I am looking forward to being more confident and less afraid of slightly intimidating patients. Our video recordings of the sessions are now released, and I am NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING MYSELF ON CAMERA.

I love how whimsical children's hospitals are.
I love how whimsical children’s hospitals are.

Things got a lot better when I got to babysit some kids at Rainbow Children’s Hospital afterwards. These were kids with families impacted by sickle cell disease. I was not sure which kids had it or not, but they were all characters. I watched this adorable 1 year old who refused to sit still. She ran around almost knocking into everything. Children make me think twice about the nirvana complex. Although slightly stressful dealing with these kids who seemed like they wanted to kill themselves, playing with her honestly filled a little hole in my heart that has grown since I left my little nephew to come to medical school nearly 5 months ago! Kids are great. Especially other people’s kids because when you are done, you can give them back! 🙂

Friday: Who loves hemoglobin? House of Blues 

This week’s MSG was actually fun because he had the time to prepare for it. Hemoglobin is a concept I feel that has been drilled on me time and again so it was nice to talk about it with others. Yay for cooperativity, sigmoid curves, Hill’s Coefficient and stuffs. I surprised no one talked about the Himalayas and barrel-chested people.

That night, I left my hermitage and went out for the block 5 party at the House of Blues. Motivations: to back up my claims of liking people (despite my issues of not seeing people) and to check out the House of Blues. It was nice to see people relaxed outside of class and was entertaining at best. Here are some snapshots from the night:

It was kind of a costume party
It was kind of a costume party


Will never cease to be surprised by how empty the streets of Cleveland are even on a Friday night.

Late night Jimmy John's run
Late night Jimmy John’s run

I learned that Jimmy John’s is open until 3 AM. This observation is incredibly salient.

You have know idea how proud of myself I was for going out. I definitely am not anti-social, but selectively social. Hanging out on a Friday night with my classmates was a good way to get out of comfort-zone which is was becoming increasingly solitary for better or worse.

Saturday: I do not want to talk about Interstellar, but I will

First, birthdays! I was happy to participate in the celebration of Lok, Gi Yoon, and Jane’s days of birth! Yay for community!

I love potlucks!! So much good food and great conversation!

A cohort of people saw Interstellar afterwards. If you really like physics, Matthew McConaughey, and/or Christopher Nolan you may be satisfied. Physicist Niel deGrasse Tyson’s tweets are hilarious and you should read them. He says, “In #Interstellar, if you didn’t understand the physics, try Kip Thorne’s highly readable book, ‘The Science of Interstellar.'” Next tweet: “In #Interstellar, if you didn’t understand the plot, there is no published book to help you.”

Interstellar to me was like a kind of lesson in astrophysics mixed with a little bit of nonsense, and Matthew McConaughey being awesome. I have really high expectations for a lot of things including Christopher Nolan films so despite it being incredibly ambitious intellectually, it was so technical that the dialogue was boring. Example: astronauts talking about relativity (which in reality, they would be really smart and not have to explain it to each other). I know it was a point so that he could explain the science and at times pseudo-science to us, but it took me out of the story a little bit. ALSO, IF I HEARD MICHAEL CAINE RECITE, “DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT,” AGAIN,  I WAS GOING TO SLAP MYSELF. Not my favorite film by him, but a lot of people seem to like it. I’m not sure if they actually understood what they saw, but no matter. The best parts of the movie were the parts that did not have to be explained to the audience: where Matthew McConaughey was just being a dad.

Sunday: Baptisms and Elgar

One of the pastors of my church describes a baptism as “theological art.” In that, it is a Christian tradition that is meant to illustrate that someone is a Christian. It is a public declaration of their beliefs through the symbol of entering the water and coming out again (or being sprinkled if that’s your thing). One of my friends here was baptized on Sunday, and it was wonderful to see it. It truly is theological art. In being submerged, it symbolizes the death of Christ, and the exit from the water is the resurrection–a new beginning and new life! Beautiful. We seldom truly demonstrate what we believe before all. In this, ideologies which are so often stuck in our heads are illustrated, and the declaration of her transformation was made loud and clear.


More art happened afterwards when I saw a performance of the Elgar Cello concerto (AGAIN) at the Cleveland Symphony with Rebecca and Eric. The soloist was Alisa Weilerstein. She was fabulous and the rest of the program was not as more interesting than I expected more contemporary classical pieces. I came for the concerto but was happy to stay and hear the rest. Almost every classical listener’s favorite performance of Elgar’s concerto is by Jacqueline DuPre before she was even 20. DuPre is known especially for that performance. When watching it, its sadening to think that less than 10 years later she was unable to play her instrument due to Multiple Sclerosis. While Weilerstein’s performance simply wasn’t that, I held on to every note, humming it in my head as she played.

You've gotta get one of these!
You’ve gotta get one of these!

Well, there you have it. Another week of musings, reflection, and art.

Remember, what I said about feedback! Don’t be a butt-head.


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