The Inadvertent Role Model
“Oh Dr. Ackerman, I am so happy to see you again!” The woman who spoke to me was someone I vaguely recognized, but I didn’t know her name, nor could I remember the context in which I had previously interacted with her. That was unsettling enough, but the next thing she said to me nearly knocked me off my feet. “You are the reason I chose to go into Pediatrics.”
How did that happen??
Over the next few minutes during intern orientation I came to learn that she had been a third year medical student on her pediatric rotation two years prior. I had been the second year resident responsible for supervising her and four of her colleagues who were assigned to my “service” for a few days out of their 2-week rotation on the inpatient pediatric ward in the hospital. As we talked, she told me that we only actually interacted for a total of a few hours. But somehow, during that time, she saw something in me that called out to her, something in me that she could relate to, and that said to her that I had some qualities she chose to emulate, and this in turn helped her to see herself choosing Pediatrics as her career within medicine.
I was currently the Chief Resident when this conversation took place. I got chills that ran down my spine. I wondered how on earth she could have made such an important decision from such a limited interaction. What was wrong with her? And what did this mean about all the other interactions I had with other medical students over the years? I really had not given these interactions all that much thought prior to this revelation. But suddenly I was faced with the realization that you never know when someone is watching your every move (and in fact, someone always is), and how your behavior might influence them; for good or for bad.
Reflecting on many prior interactions, I came to realize this event was not surprising, nor was it all that rare. Aren’t we impacted by others’ behaviors frequently? Didn’t I have many interactions with colleagues or more senior physicians that impacted my future behavior?
I realized then, and I try to keep it in mind that my actions will have an impact on not only the person or persons with whom I have a relationship, those I am intending to impact, but also on someone who may be considered a bystander. If I act with integrity and transparency, others may choose to emulate that behavior. If I act out of ego and self-preservation, others may choose to emulate that, or reject that.
That day was incredibly humbling for me. I think about it often, even though it was many, many (nearly 50) years ago. I no longer fear it, because I have developed the courage to come to grips with who I am, and am relatively comfortable that most of my actions reflect the person I truly am. I believe that my actions are motivated by the best of intentions, even if the outcomes of those actions are not always optimal.
So, the next time you think that you may be too junior or too young to be a role model, remember my story. Be curious as you contemplate how you would want a stranger with whom you are interacting to be impacted by your actions. Think creatively about how you would feel if you discovered, years later that you had a lasting impact on an individual. What will the impact be? How will people be different for having watched you, or interacted with you for a few minutes, or hours or days? Do you have the courage to look in the mirror? Please let me know in the comments about a time that you had an inadvertent role model, or you found yourself being one.
Thanks for reading! I value your time and presence. Please come find me on Twitter at @CoachingADA, or on LinkedIn. Or send me an email at Alice@adackerman.com