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Changing lives by changing yourself first

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2015 - Spring


During the White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 13, the 104 students in the Class of 2019 learned that they are not the only ones starting their first year at the School of Medicine. Keynote speaker Mary I. O’Connor, M.D., said that she, too, feels excited and anxious about the challenges ahead as a first-year.

The Yale College alum (a biochemistry major who graduated in 1979) returned to Yale in May as the inaugural director of the Musculoskeletal Center at Yale-New Haven Hospital after a 23-year career as an orthopaedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Florida. With a surgeon’s efficiency, O’Connor bundled so many immediately useful pieces of advice into her address at Woolsey Hall that first-year students had a choice of which they might hang onto as they walked outside in their newly acquired starched white coats.

O’Connor began with a quote from Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” As medical director of the Mayo Clinic Integrity and Compliance Office, O’Connor said, she eagerly signed up to receive executive coaching to become an even better leader. After interviewing O’Connor’s partners, the coach found that they shared the same sentiment. They wanted O’Connor to treat them as she treated her patients—with compassion and care. Initially, O’Connor said she was surprised by this feedback. Couldn’t her team members see how much she cared for them, how hard she worked on their behalf, and how effective she was as leader? But she quickly understood the underlying lesson: “I needed to be more sensitive of my partners’ emotions and feelings. I needed to change myself.” Her coach helped her recognize and navigate the four major personality types that most of us recognize: driver, intuitive/expressive, analytical, and amiable. O’Connor, a self-described driver/intuitive, likes to take action “to move us into the future”. Analytical people like data, lots of data upon which to base decisions. Amiable workers strengthen relationships among team members. She challenged the Class of 2019 to think of their dominant personality and to keep that in mind when working with colleagues. “Never, ever underestimate the importance of diversity on your team,” O’Connor said. “All these personality style are needed for groups to consistently be high performance teams.” Gesturing to the students before her, she added, “You will not find this level of diversity throughout medicine” Indeed, 20 percent of the class hails from foreign countries including Bolivia, Canada, Brazil, Philippines, Iran, and China.

She concluded with another Rumi quote about accepting the gift of negative feedback with grace: “If we are irritated by every rub, how will we ever become polished?”