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Inspiration in 99 Seconds

by on November 30, 2012

Everyone needs a good source of inspiration. Whether that’s a high-achieving role model; a motivating coach, teacher, or peer; a good source of new ideas; or even an internal source that just requires a few extra moments of downtime. With finals looming, spread throughout the upcoming two weeks here at NYCC, and the promise of the holidays after what seems an eternity of studying, staying inspired at school can be tough.

With that in mind, this week instead of presenting about a chapter of reading at the end of one of our classes, I decided to break out an amped-up pre-game speech by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. (Take caution when viewing, the video starts out with very loud locker room cheering.)

“Forget everything else. … We get one opportunity at life, one chance at life to do whatever you’re going to do. So lay your foundation. Make whatever mark you’re going to make. Whatever legacy you’re going to leave, leave your legacy. … If you ain’t pissed off for greatness, then you’re okay with being mediocre. And ain’t nobody in here okay with being just mediocre.”

However, the reading that I would have presented is actually a source of inspiration for me as well. This summer I was introduced to the writing of surgeon Atul Gawande, who writes for The New Yorker and Slate and has authored three books: Complications (2002), Better (2007), and The Checklist Manifesto (2009). So far his writing has never failed to provide me with new ideas, new ways of thinking about medicine, and improved ways of approaching my studying and practicing.

The template for our assignment in class was to provide highlights of our reading in a 99-second presentation, so I will stick to that format now:

I read Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. The book was extremely readable, with truly interesting and relevant stories of healthcare systems that work, and others that simply have not. Topics range from Forward Surgical Teams on the battlefield, to eliminating polio through extensive vaccinations in India, to what makes obstetricians the most effective innovators in medicine.

Here are three facts:

  1. In 1847 Dr. Ignac Semmelweis implemented a hand-washing mandate in his Viennese obstetrics ward, immediately dropping the rate of childbed fever, the leading cause of death among delivering mothers, from 20% to 1%.
  2. Despite mandates of handwashing in modern hospitals, at the author’s own place of work in Boston compliance among practitioners is only at 70%- a typical number.
  3. One hospital in Pittsburgh decreased their MRSA (a “superbug”) infection rate from 50-75 cases per year to 1, a sure sign of compliance improvements. All changes were made after an outside team came in with no preconceived plans and simply informed the rest of the hospital what their successfully sterile-handed peers were doing differently.

How can we apply this? Extending this trend far beyond washing hands, Gawande suggests that the strength of this team’s strategy came from “building on capabilities that people already had rather than telling them how they had to change.” As doctors, we should keep this in mind when working with patients on lifestyle or other risk factors. As part of an increasingly dynamic healthcare climate, we must keep this in mind ourselves if we look to improve our practice.

There- 96 seconds when I just timed it.

Gawande’s writing serves as a source of inspiration for me because, as fresh faces in the medical world, my classmates and I will have the opportunity to build our practices to overcome some of medicine’s current challenges from the start. That may not directly rely on my current studying for next week’s Neuroscience lab exam, but hey, that’s where the Ray Lewis video comes in handy.

Because ain’t nobody in here okay with being just mediocre.


What inspires you? I need some reading for the upcoming break, so if you have a recommendation, please leave it in the comments below!

Learn more:

Check out Atul Gawande’s personal website for more on his books, articles, and publications, such as his most recent NYT article, “Big Med.”

For more inspirational speeches like Ray Lewis’, The Bleacher Report published a collection of 20 Locker Room Speeches That Will Fire You Up.


Gawande, Atul. On Washing Hands. Better. New York, NY: Picador; 2007.

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Dr Tamara Lovelace

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