• Dr Sally Ayesa

Taking criticism? I have a long way to go

Today, I write from a place of vulnerability. I have had a truly intense 24 hours where a family member has been in a serious accident (he's recovering and will be fine) and am feeling emotionally exhausted. So for my wellbeing I am going to start from a place of honesty, and build from there.


I have been trying to collect my thoughts to write a blog post on how to take criticism for a few weeks. This has come as a request from a colleague who I know has been struggling with this, and I am honoured that she has asked me to give her some advice. I have started conversations about this very topic and have a grand plan to write something evidence based and thoughtful. In the past, I wrote a short post on how to work with feedback leading up to exams. Today however, this post is mostly about me.


Taking criticism is one of my greatest weaknesses as a learner - when it comes to imaging or otherwise. I am in constant need of feedback, continually asking for it because I know that it is the only way to improve. The problem is that I know pour myself into my work and take pride in the outcomes, so that part of me is always hoping for that 'gold star'. This means that when I get a piece of constructive - or outright negative - feedback I will take it one of two ways. If I am having a good day, I will take it in my stride and try and think of constructive ways to improve. If I am having a bad day, I take it to heart and the whole thing gets out of hand. I can quickly find myself in a dark place where the negative thoughts swirl and I start to catastrophise. It's hard, I'm continually working on it, but it's not always easy to have the strength of character to seek growth at every turn.


One of the unique situations which radiology training gives you is being paired with a consultant for a whole or half day session - where all of your work is 'signed off' by this senior doctor. If you find yourself with someone with a different reporting style, learning style or personality style, it can be tough.


Currently, I am frequently rostered on with a specialist who has an excellent eye for detail and strives to get everything as perfect as possible. After all - she wants to do no harm and takes immense pride in putting out her best work. But where does that leave me as her learner? My reports are edited heavily, small differences of opinion are pointed out like red-flag mistakes and I am left feeling like I can't do anything right.


Is this the truth? Probably not. Am I as useless as I am feeling? Almost certainly not.


But it doesn't change the way that I feel at the end of the day.

Radiologist Criticism Feedback
Sometimes it can be hard to do your best work when you feel the pressure of someone looking over your shoulder

There are advantages and disadvantages of feeling your shortcomings strongly. I like to think that it means I care about my patients and the standard of my work. I also know that it means that I am less likely to repeat the error or misinterpretation. The way that I treat myself after an objective or perceived mistake has surely helped with my knowledge retention, and maybe even my learning of radiology subject matter - but would I suggest it as a healthy learning style? Absolutely not.


If you are feeling like me, or know someone who is, what would I recommend to help? Sometimes, even just a kind word of encouragement is enough. Sometimes a break or a walk can break the cycle of negative thinking and bring some perspective. If I was having a bad run, I would report a couple of chest x-rays to bring my mind back into focus and remind myself that I felt comfortable somewhere (chest x-rays because I love chest imaging - but everyone will have their own safe space). When it is really getting on top of me I chat with a trusted senior colleague or my director of training. After all, it is their job to look after my learning in more ways that just reporting proficiency.


What about if you are teaching and you feel that the trainee is bogged down in their own self doubt? I'm by no means an expert here, but consultants who have made an impact on me have shown kindness, respect and understanding. They see trainees as colleagues and people. They relax the hierarchy and offer tales of their own learning, possibly an experience of their own where they were humbled and how they have improved their practice since.


I know that this topic will take more than one post for me to explore and I hope to do this over the next few weeks. If you have any insights or advice, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted through this website or we could start a conversation on twitter @SalAyesa

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