Life As Usual - Managing Illness And Grief While Running Your Startup

The thing about illness is, it just hits you.

It’s unpredictable, it follows no rules (not always anyway, despite our best work as clinicians and scientists, biology is unique and will play its own role in each of us), and it hits you when you least expect it.

It’s damn frustrating, because our daily lives are built around routine, around schedules for work and appointments and goals and personal life. But illness doesn’t follow a schedule. The world doesn’t sit still while you suffer.

So what can you do?

You try to pace yourself, and take time off.

You limit your commitments; you rest; you take a break.

Then, when you feel better, you return to work, to your startups, to your passions - to your life as usual - and BAM! It hits you again. Or some other calamity related to the illness.

Whether it’s an illness hitting you, or your loved one; your life is disrupted again.

And think about the emotional trauma of impending bereavement; grief; or other foreshadowing..

Imagine this happening again, and again, and again, and again…..

This is reality for millions of people around the world.

And if it’s not cancer, child-related, or pregnancy-related, often the people affected are suffering in SILENCE- the kind where no one understands what’s going on with you.

How on earth can you live #lifeasusual while fighting something that’s bigger than you, that has no rule book, that pays no heed to your wishes, that doesn’t reward you for good rest and nutrition and self care?

You can recognise the things you can control.

All you can control is right in this moment.

The present.

Being mindful of your surroundings; of your circumstances; of the thoughts, fears and hopes in your head.

You can control your breathing; whether you take a step forward or back (literally); whether you choose to sit in stillness, or with a book and pen, or with headphones on the train, or holding your loved one’s hand.

You can accept that things aren’t right for now, and possibly won’t be ever again, instead of trying to hide those feelings; and that makes it easier to take your next step.

It’s tough while running the startups in your life, tough trying to keep all the wheels in motion while trying to be there for yourself and others who are most important to you.

Allow yourself to not listen to those who don’t understand- because there are many, unfortunately, who will choose not to.

Remember, you’re doing your best.

You deserve to be kind to yourself.

To be continued…

Fear is the Enemy of Creation

Something I’ve been thinking of recently.

Is Fear synonymous with Perfectionism?

Fear of screwing it up?

Fear of not getting it right the first time?

Fear of looking like a fool (a usually unjustified concern)?

Fear you’ll launch and sell not one item?

Fear you’ll screw up your job interview and miss out on your dream job?

Are you fearing what others might say and think about your choices?

Does it really matter?

As long as you’re choosing something you’re passionate about, and believe in, by action you can convince yourself.

It’s all about learning along the way.

And acknowledging your fear.

Seth Godin says here to “acknowledge” the fear and shame. Don’t fight it. “I listen to it and do it anyway. And that is where we’re going to make the impact.”

It’s being mindful of it.

And recognising your power to conquer your fears.

What are you scared of most?

Is it really that bad?

Write down three actions you can take to challenge it.

Empowerment through eLearning in Medicine

You may have noticed on Instagram- I’ve been working on developing online courses.

The courses will have a difference to what’s existing already. There are literally thousands of fantastic courses online that will help you learn to code, sew, speak Spanish, and more.

But nothing out there exists specifically for medical workers and the entrepreneurially-minded out there, from a medical perspective, from real experiences.

How does startup thinking apply to you as a doctor, nurse, physio, engineer and so forth?

Where do you start when a great idea comes to mind?

What’s the truth about how clinicians really feel at times- burnt out, exhausted, demotivated, self-loathing even? How is this similar to how entrepreneurs in other industries feel? And how can all of you learn from these experiences and overcome them, or at least start to tackle them when you’re on the go, on rotation in the middle of nowhere, a busy parent on night shift, or taking a gap year overseas?

I realised that, by exploring all these topics the last three years, even when it wasn’t clear to me at first (this whole blog started by accident, after all!), the whole journey has helped me in my own personal and professional life.

I went through all of this myself, was burnt many times, and know what lies are out there, what superficial constructs have been built supporting the “Silicon Valley mindset”, how toxic this can be to you as a compassionate person who works in healthcare or wants to start in healthcare, and how the medical world is similar to this.

And also, what’s changing about these worlds, to accept more human elements, more authenticity, more vulnerability, and more real sharing of experiences and ideas.

Thinking of your path as your own Startup is one way to start healing yourself, to build resilience, and to encourage yourself when you’re alone, when you feel misunderstood, and things seem tough. Even if you never start your own tech company, it doesn’t matter. We can all learn from startup thinking, even if your pursuit is actually in art or music or sport.

And that’s the thing. From Day 1, I was keen to feature people who are like me- creative as well as in STEM- to help transform the dialogue in medicine, that we are just what our job roles say- RMO, RN1, Dietitian, and nothing else beyond that. What happened to the extracurricular activities we loved in school, and how they were promoted as part of our curriculums there?

I felt ridiculed and even stupid for having a strong creative passion from childhood, and trying to marry this with medicine, which I also enjoy. Really, we all use creativity to some extent in our daily lives. From showcasing interviews with photographers, magicians and jewellery designers, to gaining confidence for my own journey in the creative industries, and to being approached to help start other ventures, this journey has been incredible and taught me a lot that I can share with you, too.

I’ll keep you posted- best is to sign up to the Mailing List at the bottom of this page, and/or follow on social media; if any questions about what particularly you’d like to learn or are struggling with, please send me an email at info (at) themedicalstartup.com.

Thank you for being part of our journey throughout, can’t wait to share more!

Cheers,

Louise

Thank you, 2018 :)

It’s strange sitting here, 1.5 hours before midnight in my home city, 2.5 hours til 2019 in my current one.

But it’s a great time for reflection, particularly when you and your other half saw the Early fireworks as he’s oncall tonight.

2018 was a huge year for me.

One of my faves, Ariana Grande herself said it best- “I find it interesting that this has been one of the best years of my career and the worst of my life.”

I guess personally, it wasn’t the absolute worst it could have been for me, but it definitely had a huge amount of challenges that really rocked me- but also gave me the extraordinary chance to reset and reframe the difficult situations in my personal life.

You can dread each day and its challenges, or you can reframe it to be uplifting for someone else who’s going through a hard time.

Every day counts.

I really believe that, no matter what challenges your career throws at you, you and your loved ones come first.

They’re your anchor, they’re your reason, your “Why” in most cases.

And you should never be ashamed of putting your wellbeing first.

Because no matter how big your career gets- and I believe that your career is your startup - you’ll enjoy it more when you respect yourself.

If you need more time before saying “Yes” to a project, ask for it.

If you feel pressured to work weekends and public holidays because that’s “the startup way,” but you’re actually more productive just working on odd weekdays, go ahead and set your boundaries.

If your personal circumstances mean it’s more favourable for yourself and your family if you work a bunch of part-time and casual freelance roles, go ahead and do it.

If you feel your co-founder’s doing something dodgy, reassess and consider trusting your instincts.

If someone’s being two-faced, don’t be afraid to call it out.

If you love doing several other things along with medicine, allow yourself to do it.

Give yourself permission.

And many more examples like this.

Everyone will be better off for you owning your power.

—-

Someone wise I met recently gave me that wonderful piece of advice.

“Own Your Power.”

Own your decision-making capability, your strengths and skills, your relationships, your identity.

People will try to take advantage of your vulnerability.

So-called “friends” and “partners” in startups and medicine will show their true colours to you, even when the rest of the world can’t see it immediately.

It’s disheartening. It can be isolating, and you can question yourself and your perception, wanting to believe you’re wrong.

It’s okay, because questions are healthy, and I’ve learnt how valuable it is to be mindful, and become more self-aware.

It’s a great defence mechanism, mindfulness. I’ve found it’s a great decision-making tool, productivity booster, and mental health balm. (Ooh, I should package that! Next to the lip balm jars!)

But I guess my rambling here right now is to say,

THANK YOU.

Thank you, 2018, for teaching me even through my weaknesses and dark times this year.

Thank you for giving me the chance to grow stronger.

Thank you for helping me to speak my truth.

Thank you to every single one of you who stumbles across my page; who reads my articles from way back when; who follows and likes (for real) my stuff on social media; who has become a true friend from this crazy journey; who has bumped into me at some event or clinic somewhere around the world and said hello; who believes in me even when I don’t; who believed in me even when it doesn’t all make sense.

I can’t wait to share 2019 with you all.

Have a wonderful New Year and enjoy the celebrations :):):)

*I think I am serious about the mental health balm!

Breaking The Boundaries You’ve Set Yourself: Thoughts and Events To Inspire Your Tech Journey

First published May 28, 2017

 

How do you learn about tech as an outsider?

For awhile, before The Medical Startup became an idea, I was toying with creating something in tech.

I was a full-time doctor in a Melbourne hospital, spending all my spare time studying for fellowship.

When you’re at that stage in your career, you’re usually facing another four to six years of focusing on fellowship full-time.

I was surrounded by peers who were working towards the same goal.

It was all we knew at that time. We’d forgotten what life was like pre-training, it was deemed a “waste” if you paused for breath, and it took a long, long time to learn to breathe above water again.

So it seemed impossible.

But when you start to act towards those “strange” goals, the world opens up beyond anything you’d imagine. 

Attending events and online webinars helped tremendously. I was surrounded by others who were teaching themselves, too.

I started learning how to adapt to new environments, even more new than running a Code Blue at 3am.

I started learning the lingo of life outside of medicine.

And the love of learning I have for medicine sustained me through this journey, too.

So here’s a thought for the next time you’re thinking, “I can’t do this” or “It’s impossible, I have no background in this area.”

Think laterally about what you’re telling yourself.

Is it really impossible?

 

You’re not just a doctor.

You’re a woman in tech.

You’re not just a nurse.

You’re a father of three.

You’re not just a clinician who sees patients one by one at scheduled appointments at your clinic.

You’re facilitating their wellness beyond their current condition. How they are at home, at work, at the shops and their daily lives.

You have to stop thinking of yourself as a single job description. 

Otherwise, when you’re stuck, how will you remember who you are again?

Think about those who have the courage to uproot countries and settle in a new culture, starting from scratch with their careers again. Often, their degrees aren’t recognised at their new home.

Or think of those who graduate from one degree, then use their determination and self-belief (even when it’s down) to apply to study post-graduate medicine or another degree.

Don’t underestimate yourself.

We’re all learning, after all.

And that shiny, suited person speaking up on the big stage? They had to start somewhere, too. 

This is literally just a random post after reflecting on recent events and conversations. You have to normalise curiosity and your hunger for knowledge. 

Thinking about it, there are a ton of events coming up around the world that may help you along your journey; I’ll list them below. Perhaps you’ll find some of them useful, too.

A couple are med tech, but most are actually more general and will help you learn the vibe and get comfortable in the tech and entrepreneurship worlds, too.

Who knows what new friends you’ll make, and what skills and knowledge you’ll bring back to your usual lives? You’ll almost certainly realise that you already know more about tech than you thought you did.

Be inspired.

Let me know in the Comments or by email if you have been or end up going to any, and how you enjoyed it/what you took away from it. I’m also speaking at an AMA leadership event tomorrow, aimed at junior doctors but hopefully useful for others, too.

Below:

  • The Sunrise Conference” by Blackbird Ventures in Sydney. One of Australia’s most renowned tech venture capital firms. (Last year it was streamed online; here are a couple of tips we took from some of the talks.)

  • The Melbourne Accelerator Program Launch Party 2017. Last year, two Melbourne digital health startups founded by doctors were part of the program. Nebula Health and CNSDose have both benefited hugely from MAP, with Nebula now partnering with hospitals and surgeons, and CNSDose breaking ground as part of Texas Medical Center’s Innovation program.

  • General Assembly, a tech education company running coding bootcamps, one-day workshops and even two-hour events across their centres in Australia, Asia, the US and UK. Visit generalassemb.ly to find your nearest centre and see what’s available. I’ve found their events very helpful.

  • HIC, Australia’s premier health informatics (digital health) conference, run by HISA, the Health Informatics Society of Australia. It’ll be in Brisbane in August, and I’ll be presenting as part of the UX (User Experience) workshop, along with others interested in digital health. I really recommend joining HISA, HiNZ, HIMSS (including their APAC branch), COACH (Canada) or other organisations as a way to get access to valuable resources, networks and skills for eHealth.

  • COACH, Canada’s annual health informatics event early June.

  • HIMSS Asia-Pacific Summit, in Singapore in September. (As a member of HiNZ, you also get full automatic membership to HIMSS Asia-Pacific.)

  • HiNZ, which we wrote about last year; it’ll be in Rotorua this year.

  • The Global Ideas events in Melbourne, inspiring global health innovators with skills including tech and human-centred design thinking. (Read about founder Dr Lloyd Nash’s journey here.)

  • Vogue Codes, an Australian event running in Sydney and Melbourne in August aiming to inspire more women to take up careers in STEM. Speakers include the founders of ClassPass and Shoes of Prey as well as female members of Australia’s startup and tech communities. Being a woman in STEM who loves fashion and the arts, (even if I don’t look the part!), this event really speaks to me, knowing that although society places us into simplistic career boxes (“Medicine!” “Science!” “Engineer!” “Designer!”), we’re much more than just a “science person” or “arty person” 100% of the time.

  • Vivid Sydney’s Ideas program, coming up this week.

  • Girl Geek Academy, an Australian organisation aiming to educate 1 million girls and women in tech by 2025. It also has events in the US.

Doctors, You’ll Never Be Good Enough- And That’s Okay

First published May 12, 2017

Like many in the medical world, I’ve been deeply saddened by the suicide of a Brisbane gastroenterologist, the father of four children, the husband of a loving wife.

I don’t know them personally, but am touched by the email that his wife wrote and son sent online- which has triggered a flood of goodwill from his patients (the Facebook comments on the CourierMail post are so heartening) and from other health professionals and members of the public, who, like me, may not have known him personally, but felt devastated by this very unnecessary loss.

So what can we do? How do we stop others from thinking the only way out is suicide?

What’s the worst that could happen if you choose NOT to die?

 

Your patients may be looked after by other colleagues, or will find other specialists.

 

Your family will be concerned and worried about you, but they will be happier that you’re taking time to recover.

 

Your colleagues will most likely be concerned about you too, not mean-spirited. (If they are, why choose to work with them or choose to listen to them? What do they know about who you really are?)

 

Maybe part of it is our fear of delegating responsibility for our patients to others when we’re too crushed or sick to continue. Handover is so complex- even more as a consultant in private practice for many years. You would have built strong relationships with some of your patients who’ve grown with you; with your staff; with your routine. You would know their test results and the dates of their treatments off by heart.

 

And of course, when a patient dies, it is never easy.

 

Just because you’ve dealt with a patient’s demise or deterioration over and over again during the years, it doesn’t mean your feelings will be bulletproof forever.

 

And then, you also may fear delegating the responsibility of your struggles to others, to psychologists, to counsellors, to psychiatrists, or to a friend who’s a listening ear.

You’re good at curing patients. Why can’t you cure yourself?

You’re feeling enormous responsibility. Why burden others with that terrible weight?

 

There’s so much blame in medicine. We constantly want to be better. It’s the mark of a true professional, a craftsperson even in other professions. You want to better yourself.

 

But even doctors are only human.

 

Maybe we think it’s the absolute end, there’s no way out if we step back for a few days, weeks, months, years- it’s too terrifying at that moment to deal with the enormity of a future you don’t know.

 

We try too hard to control our futures and our patients’ futures, but as doctors and health professionals, and even startup founders, even we can’t control everything.

 

Maybe it’s time to recognise that and embrace it as something positive we can learn to live with.

But don’t do it alone.

Please seek help, no matter what your journey is.

Condolences and respects to Dr Bryant and his family. 

People may look like they’re doing okay on the outside, but are actually screaming for help inside. Please be kind to each other and ask directly, “are you okay?” 

Some useful sites/resources in Australia if you’re seeking help or contemplating suicide:

– Lifeline

– BeyondBlue

– Mens HelpLine

– Mindful in May

– R U OK? suicide prevention

– Victorian Doctors Health Program (please reach out even if you’re not living in the state, people are always happy to suggest other resources)

– your GP

– a psychologist

– a counsellor

– the AMA, which has other links to Drs4Drs which lists resources for Doctors in each State/Territory, and other sites; and the Australasian Doctors NetworkAustralasian Doctors Network which advocates for doctors’ health.

– Online video calls to a psychiatrist (you’ll need a GP referral but it is bulk billed)

– Lysn, a provider of online video calls to a psychologist

– your work’s Employee Assistance Program (many public and private companies including public hospitals in Australia, possibly in your country too, offer this free confidential service through external providers. The RACP also offers this, and probably other fellowship colleges do, too. Don’t be afraid to ask your HR or Workforce managers about this; it’s your right as an employee, and they are human, too, and know everyone goes through stuff.)

Feel free to list other resources you’ve found helpful below in the Comments.