Reprinted with permission from AUANews, volume 23, issue 4, 2018; © American Urological Association 2018.
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Diversity is an interesting term. We talk about it all the time in the media but rarely do we grasp the true meaning of the word.
Diversity isn’t the exclusive property of the progressively minded, nor is it something that can only be applied to matters of gender identity or racial makeup. Diversity is about more than that.
Diversity, to quote Malcolm Forbes, “is the art of thinking independently together.” I’m worried that far too few surgeons are approaching diversity in this manner.
My concern isn’t the lack of gender or racial diversity in America’s surgeons (those may be pertinent issues as well but that’s another conversation) but rather, the lack of diversity in what it takes to be a great surgeon.
I fear the surgical culture is too restrictive. It has been my experience that our culture stifles differences of opinion and shuts down thought patterns that deviate from the norm. I know a lot of surgeons who have had similar experiences throughout their time in practice. Just because we’re all surgeons doesn’t mean we have to think alike, talk alike or live alike.
Admittedly, we should all act on core principles, that is to say intelligently and professionally, in the operating room but outside of work, who cares? We don’t need to vote for the same political candidate. We don’t need to live in the same kind of neighborhood or drive the same kind of car. And we certainly don’t all need to like golf or tennis.
Surgeons are different, and those differences are OK! In fact, they’re more than OK. They’re wonderful, and they need to be embraced by the surgical community and its leaders.
When we embrace intellectual and philosophical diversity, we develop a better attitude towards our profession and our peers. Instead of getting frustrated by an opinion that is radically different from ours, we learn to appreciate that difference and approach it with a positive attitude. That improved attitude leads to improved communication in the workplace, which naturally leads to better complex problem solving, and healthier professional roles and relationships, all of which are empowered by a cooperative exchange of intellectual give and take.
As forward thinking surgeons, we need to ask ourselves how we can engage with our peers (and the opinions of our peers) without attacking. Everyone has a valid opinion and should be treated as such. How can we cultivate positive change without lambasting those who view the world, be it the surgical world or the world at large, through a different lens?
Of course, I don’t have the answers to these tough questions, at least not yet, but I’m willing to put in the hard work required to uncover them. And I hope to some degree I’ve inspired and influenced you to do the same.