Four Lessons I Learned While Working For A Cardiac Surgeon

Four lessons I learned while developing an IT system for a cardiac surgeon.

If I would’ve followed the trend, I would’ve been a programmer in a multi-national software company. But I took ’the other road’ and became an IT consultant to Dr M R Girinath, a well renowned cardiac surgeon.

He was known to bring the best of his ‘boys’ and I’m glad to have been part of his team.

Six Sigma & Lean thinking were unheard of those days. But he initiated a ’lean process’ to optimize pre-op, on-the-table & post-op processes. I was in-charge of anything to do with computer - from hardware purchase to software development to training. In short I was his CIO!

In those two years, I learned more than what I would’ve learned in any management course.

An important lesson that I have carried with me until today is to learn to speak in their language. I realized that to be successful, it is mandatory to understand their domain and learn their jargons instead of expecting them to learn my - software - language. So I did. Internet wasn’t available as prevalent as today and so I would spend hours in the British council library & their cardiac library learning all that I can about cardiac field. I even went to watch a cardiac surgery (I didn’t sleep for two days after that. But the surgeon said that I did better as he is used to interns fainting in the theatre). Speaking customer’s language helped me then and it still helps me.

I also learned an equally important lesson about importance of nurturing people by observing his people skills. He had a knack of getting the best and get the best of them. His team is composed of those who were with him for more than a decade. He is also known to have mentored many surgeons who have left his team to head cardiac units elsewhere.

Not only Dr MRG, but his whole team was hard working. They seemed to have engraved ’there is no substitute for hard work’ in them. Many days they would start at 7 or 8 in the morning and go well into late evening. But I didn’t hear them complain about their work as much as I would hear from my software colleagues.

Another admirable character I observed was their responsiveness. They knew they were dealing with life & death. I wouldn’t say all of them were saints but at least those whom I witnessed had empathy. I once heard a senior surgeon say to a duty nurse who spoke dismissively to the family of a decessed, ‘That might be a 100th case for you; but it is a 100% loss for them. Keep that in mind while talking to the family.’

I am lucky to have worked in a non-IT environment in my formative years and that too as a solo-practitioner. These practical lessons were so valuable and they continue to differentiate me.

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