Equestrians and the Art of Practicing Medicine

I assist many prospective students whose leanings are to corporate careers after college, but I also frequently encounter those who aspire to medically-oriented careers – future doctors, physician’s assistants, dentists, and veterinarians.  Because they’re all equestrians of one sort or another, each one is already well on his or her way to possessing the very skills that will assist the daily work they are tasked with after they don their white coats.

Thus, in the vein of my previous posting about equestrians and the art of negotiation in the business world, I’ll continue the theme and discuss how equestrian skills can serve students well as medical professionals.  Namely:

  • Equestrians know that body language is everythingEvery communication we have with our horses is nonverbal – even when we’re speaking aloud to them – because by and large they have no idea what we’re actually saying.  Thus, if we want to succeed in getting our message across, we must be able to quickly assess the messages they’re sending us (in particular, “Back off!” and “I’m in no mood to be handled right now.”).  We must be able to return messages of our own without resorting to just using language (though if you’re like me, you usually speak to them anyway).  I’ve seen panicky horses hung up in stall bars and tangled in bits of fencing that instantly stopped struggling when a calm, thoughtful human appeared on the scene to rescue them.  I’ve likewise seen otherwise calm horses sent into fits of nervousness and shy violently when someone misread their nonverbal cues and unwittingly triggered their flight response.  For health professionals who are also horse people, the realization that the sort of bedside manner (or stall-side manner if you’re a vet!) that is most beneficial to helping you progress with a patient is often identical to the approach that you adopt with a fractious horse is already firmly positioned in your mind.  (Now you just need the medical knowledge to back it up!)
  • Equestrians know how to make quick decisions.  If you are adept at making the last-minute decision to add a stride or leave one out or perhaps are known for your intuition regarding whether or not to take the long option on a cross-country course, you’re a horse person well-versed in the art of quick thinking.  Early in our riding careers, most of us are forced by necessity to master the art of the instant, gut-driven decision – the very decision that usually means the difference between staying on the horse or taking our chances with the ground.  It’s the ability to make those decisions and follow through with them very, very quickly that sometimes means the difference between the blue ribbon and elimination – or sometimes between safety and serious injury.  Medical professionals are often responsible for quick decisions of their own – often with life-altering repercussions for their patients – and if you enter medical or veterinary school already possessing a reliable “quick decision” mechanism, you’re going to be less likely to make mistakes when the pressure’s on.
  • Equestrians know how to make decisions that require a slower thought process.  Working with horses often requires that we make snap decisions in the moment, but we’re also often faced with decisions that should never be made in haste.  Should I breed my mare this year?  What is at the root of my gelding’s lameness and what course of treatment should I follow?  What’s the most cost-effective show schedule I can map out?  Making any of those decisions in an instant can often lead to more problems down the line, so equestrians learn to be expert researchers, comparing all available data over a period of time so that we can make rational decisions that are backed up by hard evidence.  When faced with unusual, difficult, or troubling cases – or even when simply dealing with a situation that is out of the realm of their normal practices – medical professionals must often turn to the research available in their fields to discover the best approach for their patients.  Whether it’s buying the safest horse trailer or putting a cardiac patient on the appropriate dosage of a particular medicine, equestrians who are medical professionals know exactly how to study up a topic so they can make the best decision.
  • Equestrians understand that the mysteries of life and death are infinitely beyond us.  I’ve never met a horse person who didn’t have a tragic tale of woe or miraculous tale of recovery regarding horses that they’ve owned or known.  In fact, most of us can tell both types of tale at a moment’s notice – from the horse that fatally injured himself in a mystifying and seemingly impossible manner to the one who emerged unscathed from the wreckage of a horrible trailer accident and walked onto the rescue trailer without batting an eyelash.  Meanwhile, if you speak to enough health professionals, they too will have similar stories regarding patients – those of tragic ends and miraculous saves.  Thus, acceptance of the fact that sometimes we just can’t understand why situations resolve themselves as they do means that equestrians already possess many of the coping mechanisms they will need to be successful in their medical careers.

Will being an equestrian give you an advantage when you sit down to take the MCAT or help you succeed during your sophomore year of college when all future medical professionals take the dreaded year of organic chemistry?  Probably not.  But when it comes to understanding how to have an appropriate bedside manner, how to make it through a long and arduous day, and how to accept resolutions that are sometimes unacceptable, students who possess an equestrian background may truly have a “leg up” on their non-equestrian counterparts.

(Need help finding the right school where you may conduct your pre-medical studies?  Contact me!)


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