Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Jacqueline Boehme, MD, a fourth-year resident in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine.
“Your game begins in — 3… 2… 1…” the announcer said as a robotic rollercoaster named Ava shuttled me off in a frenzy. “Focus, focus… FOCUS!” I shouted to myself internally, all the while feeling a chaotic mixture of excited nervousness and stage fright, compounded by the adrenaline flowing throughout me. Ava pummeled me with riddles and puzzles, then swung me around like a yo-yo as the word “correct” reverberated repeatedly in my disbelieving ears. Question after question, I answered, reasoned, guessed and passed, until the unimaginable happened: I became a Mental Samurai and won $100,000.
Since completion of my time on this national TV game show, I have received the same question again and again — “Why did you decide to go on a game show?” While it might not seem like a natural professional development opportunity for an anesthesiology resident, this was a tremendous chance for me to showcase and continue honing the skills that will help me excel in my chosen medical profession.
According to FOX, the channel that broadcasts Mental Samurai, the show is “[a]n obstacle course for the mind” which “tests contestants’ intelligence and mental agility,” a description which I liken to a career in anesthesiology.
While on the show, I was forced to think critically under stressful circumstances: sleep deprivation, a jolting rollercoaster, an ever-present countdown, an audience of expecting eyes, the pressure of national television and the desire to win a prize. In my medical training, I’m often making critical, life-altering decisions for patients under parallel constraints with the clock ticking and the deep desire of a positive outcome. I’ve gained the ability to think analytically and feel confident to make these decisions each day.
Problem Solving Under Pressure
In my earlier life, I was a very different version of my current self. Though equally curious, self-motivated and academic, I was also much more self-conscious, reserved, self-critical and indecisive. The intensive medical training I have received at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham Health gave me the voice I have today, the eye to discern relevant information; the skillset to weigh risks and benefits; the judgment to deduce outcomes from data; the confidence to make decisions given limited information; and the flexibility to do it all on a moment’s notice.
I remember one moment on Mental Samurai when my medical training was especially helpful. Ava flashed a quick video clip of a man lying across a desk chair being pushed across the screen by another man. The question that beamed across the screen related to nothing I had seen: How many legs did the chair have? I was shocked — I had completely missed this trivial detail and was dumbfounded by the question.
This reminded me of a time when I was treating a patient who appeared to have a perfect airway during their preoperative exam, but when I attempted to intubate them, my heart sank: I could see neither the glottis nor epiglottis — the worst (and very rare) view one can have when trying to insert a tracheal tube. My initial surprise could have led to panic but instead I did what I was trained to do: I problem solved. My attending and I analyzed the situation and quickly called for the appropriate equipment. This led to a successful outcome.
Experiences I’ve had in the operating room and across the hospital allowed me to keep my cool on national TV while I blinked away my disbelief at this question about the chair and contemplated the available information to derive a logical solution. After watching the clip, I was given three possible answers and needed to choose the right one. As I reviewed the choices I thought: “Three legs will cause the man to fall, seven legs is too abnormal in appearance and would have caught my eye and five seemed to be the logical balance of both.” “Five!” I shouted and held my breath — once again, “correct.”
I will relish my participation on this game show for years to come because of the incredible opportunity to use and showcase the same set of skills that I use every day a physician. Though the stakes differ, the skillset is the same. It was Sir William Osler, founder of the first medical residency program, who stated, “If the license to practice meant the completion of his education, how sad it would be for the practitioner, how distressing to his patients! More clearly than any other, the physician should illustrate the truth of Plato’s saying that education is a lifelong process.” I take immense pride in the training I have received and the career that I have chosen — a true obstacle of the mind where each day my intelligence and mental agility are tested daily for the purpose of improving my patients’ lives.