Learn Something Every Day

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snowflake
© 2013 Barbara Friedman

Today I’m going to brag about my sister – to make a point.  I expect it will embarrass her a little (no intention to do that) but she illustrates something very important – a good lesson for us all.

Barbara (Torrey) Friedman, decided a few years ago (2010) that she’d like to learn a little something about photography.  “A little something” has now become a skill that is, simply put, awe-inspiring.

And yes, that’s a photo she took two days ago of a real snowflake, one of bazillions that fell in Ithaca, NY where she lives. Think about it. She captured ONE. And of course – it’s unique!  Beyond the fact that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, the photo is – too – uniquely Barb’s.

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Yes Barb’s photography is superb. You can enjoy more of it here. And even more of it here – all 1,022 images she has put online so far.

So what does this have to do with patient advocacy?

I hear from so many people who want to begin work as professional advocates, about half of whom ask the question, “What courses do I need to take?” or “Do I need to be certified?”  And other questions that relate to learning more in preparation for this new career.

The other half think they already know everything they think they will need to know.

But they don’t.

And THAT’s the point here.

None of us are ever too old, or too knowledgeable, to learn more.

Barb’s pursuit of knowledge and expansion of her photography skills never stops. She is mostly self-taught – not just the use of her camera, but the use of the software that has become her digital darkroom, too. She has also taken many courses – some in person, some online.  She belongs to interest groups and attends meet-ups near her home….

About two years ago, she committed herself to taking at least one photo every day of the year.  To accomplish that, she has taught herself to look at the world around her in very different ways.

Case in point:  It wasn’t enough for her to take the shot of the snowflake.  Barb had to plan it (how on earth does one isolate ONE snowflake like that? What does that snowflake need to fall on to provide the contrast so you can see it so clearly? Is there a perfect temperature in which to work on that sort of shot?  Does that temperature affect how the camera, or its lenses, perform? Do adjustments need to be made? etc – we can only imagine.)

In less than 5 years, Barbara has developed a skill that has her published in high places (including the big kahuna – Getty Images), and provides her with immense satisfaction.

If the pursuit of excellence in photography requires all that, what does the pursuit of excellence as a patient advocate require?  Photography is one thing – human lives are on a whole ‘nother level.

There are so very many aspects to developing excellence in private advocacy.  It’s not just about knowing how to maneuver through the healthcare system, or communicating effectively with providers, or negotiating with hospital billing departments.  It’s also about running a business.  It’s understanding things like E&O insurance, and what comprises a legal contract. It’s about marketing. It’s about customer service, and staying in touch with clients: past, present and future.  It’s knowing how to get them to say “yes!” to a contract. It’s about keeping up with changes in the system, and connecting with the media so you can promote your expertise.

It’s also about knowing how to walk away when something just isn’t right or learning to say “no!” when someone asks you to do something for free.  It’s about developing the confidence in yourself that YOU CAN DO IT!  It’s about reaching out to other advocates who have gone before you and can help you build your practice, then, in turn, supporting other advocate wanna-bes as they walk behind you through this path to success.

It’s even recognizing just what success means – for you, your clients and the profession.

You can’t do any of that unless you continue to learn. Period. And you can’t learn it all at once. It’s a gradual process, sometimes unconscious. You weren’t born knowing everything you need to know. No one expects you to learn it overnight.

But you do need to pursue it.  You need to make yourself a promise that you’ll learn something every day. Maybe it will be a little thing. Or maybe it will be a big thing. Sometimes it will be intentional. Sometimes it will be unintentional.  It just needs to be constant, and at times, a conscious effort.

Even our Advocate’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards includes the pursuit of continued learning (see standard #10)

So how are you supposed to do this?  Here are some starter ideas.  Maybe you can add your ideas, too? (See below.)

Not sure what you need to learn?  Then figure it out by doing your gap analysis.  Even THAT is learning something new.

The highest level achievers in any profession know, and embrace, this concept of continual learning.

Lives and money will be saved, and improved, when you embrace it.

Your success, like Barb’s, will depend on it.

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Agree? Disagree?

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