We are in New York City today on one of our quarterly visits to Trevor’s doctor. I know many people who learn of our cross-country travels from Portland wonder why we don’t just see someone local. The short answer is we would if there was someone as good as Dr. H, but there isn’t.
A few years back I read Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande, and was drawn to the chapter of a republished article he had written for the New Yorker titled The Bell Curve: What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are? It’s a brilliant piece detailing how the medical profession improved life expectancy for patients with cystic fibrosis by sharing outcomes and best practices. But the essence of the article was that even when this was done, there has always been one hospital that has achieved better outcomes than all other institutions. And it’s because of one dedicated physician.
Atul visits this doctor and observes a session with a seventeen year-old girl who has stopped taking her medicines. While I could describe what happens, I want to encourage you to read the article! Suffice it to say he is the physician you want if you have cystic fibrosis. He is far from average on the bell curve, relentlessly pursuing new methods for achieving better outcomes. While what he does makes a difference, it’s also because of who he is that his patients live longer.
And this ultimately is why we travel across the country every three months to see Dr. H. For two years we saw all sorts of doctors who contributed pieces to an unsolved medical puzzle, but none were able to put the puzzle together until Dr. H came along. She is one-of-a-kind doctor because of what she does and who she is.
The truth is that you can take any field or profession and find individuals that soar above the rest. In a landmark publication titled The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology), K. Anders Ericsson has compiled perhaps the most comprehensive book on what separates the best from the rest. In short: Deliberate practice. The best put in far more hours than their peers studying what it takes to get better. Above and beyond normal work hours, they invest many more hours thinking and doing things to improve their outcomes. They stay current on research, invent new methods if they don’t exist, test out new ideas, and never are afraid to step outside of the box if it results in benefits for patients.
Yes, heading to New York City every three months takes some effort! But we would have it no other way.