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Lessons from the Olympics: Be a Mentor, Never Stop Improving

Posted on Mon, Aug 29, 2016
Lessons from the Olympics: Be a Mentor, Never Stop Improving

By Adam Corley, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

Anyone who knows me well would tell you that I am not a sports fan. I don’t follow football, baseball, basketball, UFC, the Kentucky Derby or the Olympics. I usually make a token attempt at keeping a baseline sports knowledge and vocabulary so that I can at least be minimally social, but unfortunately, I usually fall embarrassingly short.
 
However, even to a sports dunce like me, several moments and lessons from this year’s Summer Olympics hit home. Michael Phelps sailing into the record books as the most decorated Olympian of all times certainly makes my personal highlight reel. But an almost more inspiring story belongs to Joseph Schooling.
 
Schooling, a Singapore native now attending the University of Texas, met his hero Michael Phelps in 2008 in advance of Phelps' incredible Olympic performance. Phelps graciously took a photo with Schooling – a photo that now lives in social media infamy.
 
The New York Times quoted Schooling as saying “As a kid, I wanted to be like him. A lot of this is because of Michael. He is the reason that I wanted to be a better swimmer."
 
To me, the Phelps-Schooling story says a few things. First, we all need mentors, coaches and inspirational figures in our lives. There are hundreds of people who inspire me in one way or another. I have dozens of mentors and a few coaches, all of whom I rely on for advice, direction, inspiration and guidance. I appreciate each and every one of them and know that I need their help to be successful.
 
Secondly, I think that it's important to remember that there is a very good chance that you inspire someone. You may be their mentor, inspiration or idol. If you are given the chance to be a mentor, take it. Teach. Coach. Advise. Guide. Give others the benefit of your training and experience. Leave your profession, your hospital, your ER or your community a better place by making the generation that follows even better and more successful.
 
I think that my favorite lesson from the 2016 Olympics is a historical one. In 1972, American Mark Spitz stunned the world by winning seven gold medals in Olympic swimming. Spitz set a world record that year by swimming the 200m freestyle in 1:52.78 – an incredible accomplishment by any standard.
 
The slowest time recorded in the 2016 Rio Olympics 200m freestyle was 1:45.91. Spitz's world record swim from 1972 would not have even made the Olympic finals 44 years later.
 
The Munich to Rio freestyle story should serve to remind us that we must never be satisfied. Never satiated. Never stop trying to be better. Yesterday’s world record is tomorrow’s last place. There are always ways to innovate and improve. Just because you are good, great or even the best for a moment doesn’t mean that you can stop or rest on your laurels. We as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, CRNAs and administrators must never stop pushing the flywheel.



Dr. Adam Corley is a practicing emergency physician with more than 10 years of clinical and leadership experience. Dr. Corley serves as Executive Vice President for EmCare’s West Division. He also serves as the medical director for several EMS services and the Anderson County Texas Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Corley lectures and writes on a variety of topics, including decision science and behavioral economics, management of disruptive behavior in healthcare, conflict resolution and healthcare leadership.
 

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