Vulnerability

Vulnerability. It doesn’t get a mention in the physiotherapy space.

Vulnerability within physiotherapy didn’t even occur to me until a close conversation with a friend (and fellow physio).

One of the key things that physios lack, he said, is being vulnerable. To be wrong. And to tell others, our colleagues, that we stuffed up.

Yes, I thought as soon as the words left his mouth. This, is big.

We suck at being vulnerable.

Sharing failure, vulnerability

Egotistical

It’s a generalisation to say that physios aren’t good at vulnerability. But how often have you heard your colleagues or mentors offering up times when they mismanaged a patient, diagnosed incorrectly or stuffed up in one way or another?

Instead, we justify our mistakes rather than admitting to a blunder.

The question is, why don’t we (as physios) admit our errors more often?

Physios are hardly the only profession (or people) that don’t like to acknowledge failure. Humans, in general, are bad at this.

Though, physios (among others) may be particularly prone. Maybe it’s because many physios are high achievers. Being wrong isn’t a possibility.

Wrong is right

Failing to admit failure is holding us back.

After all, being wrong does not mean defeat. Being wrong and continuing along the same path leads to defeat. That is, bad outcomes for our patients (and the festering of negativity within).

What happens if we start admitting our faults more often?

Better patient management, that’s what.

We must share the patient cases that leave us bewildered. Others have been there. They can share their perspective. Have you tried testing this? What about asking that?

Also, we must share the cases that we think we have a perfect handle on. There’s always room for lateral thinking. There’s always room for mistakes.

As soon as we ask for help, we share the responsibility of that patient. No longer is it resting solely on one person’s shoulders. This reduced burden allows for more freedom of thought (meaning we’re less likely to be frazzled by a bamboozling case).

Sharing the burden

We can also afford to be more vulnerable with our patients. We’re human after all. It’s OK to admit we don’t know what’s going on with their knee. But we’re doing our best to find out.

This openness will only strengthen our relationship with them

Another consequence of showing vulnerability is a stronger physiotherapy community. Many new graduates hold a fear of being wrong because their more senior colleagues appear to be perfect. They’ve never once been wrong (or admitted it, at least).

How would you feel if your mentor or a senior colleague admitted a stuff up? Surprised, perhaps? Relieved even?

Bigger picture

Admitting we’re at a loss applies to our career at large too.

How often have you left your workplace or finished work for the week and felt a huge sense of relief. Thank God that’s over!

Or, how often have you moped around on Sunday night because of the inevitability of a dreaded Monday?

Being vulnerable relates to sharing our fears (and ambitions) with others who are very much like us. The feeling that we’re feeling, they’ve probably felt it too.

Once we tell them of our Sunday night stress, they tell us that, once upon a time, they had the same experience. As soon as they started thinking more about __________ and working harder on __________ the stress ebbed away.

Rethinking failure

††Becoming a better physio (and person, for that matter) starts with admitting a few things:

  • We need others
  • We’re not always right (and are probably more often wrong)
  • It’s OK to be wrong

Each week, speak with someone – like a colleague – about

  • A stuff up
  • Something you might have stuffed up
  • A thing that you don’t do well and would like to improve
  • And something you did well but would like their opinion anyway

Let it out. Get their thoughts. Then do it again, week after week, month after month and year after year.

Author: Andrew Cammarano

Andy writes about anything that comes to mind. Oftentimes, he repeats himself. So, if you read a post and ask yourself, "I feel like I've read this before." Chances are you have. Apart from writing, he eats a diet high in peanut butter, he exercises (and suffers from a chafed butt from performing too many sit-ups in pursuit of a six-pack) and comes up with many fantastical ideas, like his peanut butter-based chafe cream. Reach out to him to share your opinions (or if you'd like to become his chafe cream business partner).

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