You have probably heard of Dr. Ben Carson, the black American doctor who in the late 1980s became the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. His journey to reach these great heights was a long one. Many factors along the way led to Ben acquiring the special and necessary skills set that made it possible for him to successfully separate conjoined twins later on in his career. Today, we want to dwell on one key step that he took early on in his career development that enabled him to become specially skilled, among other steps that he took.
During his internship at the Johns Hopkins Neuro-Science Centre, Dr. Bryant Stokes visited the centre from Austria, accompanied by other prominent neurosurgeons. This gave chance to the young intern doctor Carson to interact with the senior neurosurgeon Dr. Bryant Stokes. In his book Think Big, Carson writes: “The first time I met him at work, I knew that I was standing next to an exceptionally skilled surgeon. Bryant and I hit it off from the first. ‘You need to come to Australia,’ he would often say to me. ‘You could be a senior registrar, get a bit more practice. We might even manage to teach you a few tricks.’
At the right moment, Carson applied for funding to go to Austria to learn from the best in his field of neurosurgery. He got funding for a year’s study in Australia at the Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital of Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre. There he met two special neurosurgeons that would go on to leave a lasting mark on the special neurosurgeon that Carson was to later become.
First was Stokes himself, the man that had attracted Carson to travel all the way from the USA to Australia, in search of special training, special mentorship and coaching. Carson describes Stokes as a perfectionist that settled for nothing less which made Carson to highly respect Stokes. He says that Stokes had absolute insistence on excellence and punctuality which made him settle for nothing less. Apparently, Stokes demanded a lot from himself and led by example. He was not one of those ‘do as I say, not as I do’ persons. He expected high standards from others and he was prepared to always demonstrate those same high standards.
The other special neurosurgeon that Carson met and learnt from in Australia was Dr. Richard Vaughan. There was one particular and striking unique quality that Dr. Richard Vaughan had—his willingness to tackle the extremely complex cases—ones that many would have considered as hopeless. Strangely, Carson remarks—most of Vaughan patients did well!
Carson concludes his narration of the one year stay in Australia as follows: “Both men allowed me to do a considerable amount of surgery—valuable experience for me. In my one year at the Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital, I estimate that I received the equivalent of five years’ experience in an American hospital. I have always been grateful for the opportunity to learn more and to hone my skills.”
The above powerful conclusion by Carson clearly explains why in the end he became the first doctor to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. He had learnt from the best neurosurgeons early into his career. In his bid to go all the way from America to Australia, Carson was not chasing the highest paid job at the time – he was not looking for the most lucrative employer. He was searching for the best learning moment! Many young professionals today, fail to maximise their potential because even in their first jobs after college, they want to maximise money-making at the expense of best learning and on the job training. Young professionals, seek knowledge and skills first, and money will come on its own, following the best of professionals and it followed Carson in his later life. Learn your job from the best in your field and this way, you too will rise and shine like Dr. Carson!