How are doctors and skydiving instructors alike?

In November 2016, Bethany Lloyd from the University of Aberdeen was crowned the winner of our student competition. As part of her prize, Bethany delivered her workshop on medical professionalism to a group of doctors at GMC conference. Here, she writes about how she came up with her creative teaching session. 

So, how are doctors and skydiving instructors alike?

This may sound like the start of the bad joke, but there are certainly more than a few similarities between doctors and skydiving instructors. One is that you want to be confident that they know what they are doing. Another is that most of the population would only have a vague idea of how to do their job correctly. For either activity, as the patient or participant, you definitely don’t want it to go wrong.

This idea is the basis of the medical professionalism lesson I developed last year, as part of the joint GMC and MSC summer break competition. When put under pressure, what attributes would you really want a professional who you are trusting with your life to have? Would you want them to be honest? Have good communication? Be punctual?

To take the last of these as an example, it’s pretty easy to see how important it is in the context of skydiving. Who would want their skydiving instructor to be anything other than diligently punctual when it came to pulling the ripcord on their parachute?

Bethany Taylor receives her award at GMC conference 2016

Bethany Taylor receives her award from the Medical Schools Council’s Chief Executive Katie Petty-Saphon at GMC conference 2016

From this perspective, it isn’t hard to come up with examples of when punctuality is important in medicine. Say you are 10 minutes late for work: the doctor who is just finishing their shift rushes the handover, and forgets to tell you some critical information. It may not be life threatening this time, but sometimes it will be.

Approaching punctuality from this angle, we are forced into the role of the patient, rather than the doctor. By putting medicine to the side for at least the first part of the lesson, it allows for discussions to be more creative.

The question is no longer “what do you think is expected of a doctor?” but rather “if you were scared and vulnerable, what would you want from the person looking after you?” Instead of a student considering this aspect of professionalism through the lens of their own experiences – perhaps recalling their irritation at a lecturer who told them off for walking in at 9.05 – the focus is on the patient they are caring for.

How does the GMC guidance come into this?

Almost as soon as I had started thinking about preparing a lesson plan on professionalism, I hit a minor snag. I would have to actually read for myself the GMC’s guidance for medical students – Achieving good medical practice.

The cover of this and related documents had made a cameo in many lectures throughout medical school but I had so far avoided reading it. I suspect like many medical students, I was less than enthralled with the prospect of a long, dry document on professionalism.

But I was pleasantly surprised – it was very clear and easy to read. My lesson hangs on the same structure as the guidance, first encouraging students to think about characteristics they would want their “skydiving instructor” to have, and then relating them to the requirements the GMC sets for medical students.

One of the aims of the session is to demystify this guidance; by the end of a half hour lesson students should be familiar with the structure and contents of it, and hopefully interested to find out more!

Doctors and medical students taking part in Bethany's workshop at GMC conference 2016

Doctors and medical students taking part in Bethany’s workshop at GMC conference 2016

I ran the session at the GMC annual conference in December, with attendees ranging from medical students to the deans of medical schools. Both ends of the spectrum engaged with the session well, showing me the value taking a very different approach to a serious topic has in sparking discussions and an interest in learning.

My hope is that this approach opens a door for broader and more constructive conversations about professionalism for skydivers, doctors and skydiving doctors alike.

Bethany Lloyd is a fifth year student at Aberdeen Medical School. You can view her winning entry to our summer break competition, along with the five other shortlisted entries.

One response to “How are doctors and skydiving instructors alike?

  1. Dear Bethany, I reading your article. But sad reality is when you skydive you have only one instructor and hopefully he was a good one and was good at his job and you enjoy sky diving!

    But when you work as a doctor, there are many teams, there are many team members, there may be poor team working, there may be culture of bullying, your consultant (instructor may be locum who is not at all interested or may not be even good at his/her job, or you may have corrosive energy in the department or there is no bed available or you as a doctor may be suffering from mental illness, or cancer or you may be alcoholic due to stress and over work and someone bullying you!

    As a Medical Director for 15 years, I have seen all these in my life. 27 doctors have committed suicide and 87 have died within a year of referral to GMC Bethany and 85% of them are preventable!

    Please do not compare apple with pear. Sad reality is most staff including doctors want to work hard and provide good care but sad reality is NHS culture of bullying, harassment, victimisation, discrimination, racism, poor team working, poor management support, poor staffing, poor use of IT and doctors own personal and family problems come in the way of doctors desire to provide the safest and the best care.

    It is not that doctors lack professionalism but it is that system, process, culture and poor IT use doesn’t make it easy for doctors to be professionals and 80% still provide excellent care and work hard and 20% become cynical difficult arrogant and rude and there are lots of reasons but no one supports these doctors and no one tries to understand their difficulties and no one helps them and no one removes hard core 1 to 2% who should not be working in NHS!

    NHS needs good doctors to become good leaders and put excellent systems, processes and good governance and create fantastic team in every department so that patients are safe and staff are supported to provide excellent care/ Some Trusts do this very well but most Trusts fail!

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