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Musings from My Mentors

Lessons from My Mentor

Perhaps the quickest way to accelerate progress in life and career is to find a mentor. Another is to hire a coach. I did both. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Although physicians are highly motivated individuals and self-starters in general, that doesn’t mean that progress occurs in the right direction – or at all, for that matter.

Focus on the one

Emergency medicine is, perhaps, the best specialty with those who carry a label of ADHD. I prefer to call it shiny object syndrome. In what other job is it normal to rapidly alternate from sitting, standing, walking, and pacing about like a worker ant looking for a bit of food?

A reminder to focus on one task, a specific project, or a single outcome is a requirement for success. Recommended reading should be The One Thing for any physician contemplating an entrepreneurial project.

It’s better to move 1,000 steps in a single focused direction vs. one step in 1,000 different directions. In retrospect, I can see why certain projects took longer than necessary.

Take risks

As physicians, we are trained to minimize risk. In the appropriate setting, this practice is wise. Playing it safe in most other arenas leads to mediocre results. Be willing to step forward and take a chance. Don’t view failure as a personal failure, but instead use it as a learning experience.

Opportunity requires visibility

As healthcare professionals, it’s easy to become entrenched in the job, culture, and expectations. No one is forcing you to live in a predefined mold. Be bold, follow interests, and pursue a passion. Nobody will lie on his death bed wishing he had taken more call or worked more shifts. Time is fleeting – use all of it wisely.


The training to become a physician is grueling. The process has become much kinder in recent years, but it still demands a lot and leaves marks on the souls of all who embrace this work. You are not a machine or robot. Take time for yourself. Invest in self-care. Your body and mind will thank you for it. So will those who love you.

When presented with options, choose both

Often the choices are binary. We negotiate with patients to stop a damaging habit, argue with an insurance company for permission to order a test – both yes or no decisions. To use a trite phrase, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Life is not fair, get over it

Physicians have an upfront seat to the tragedies life delivers. We get stuck with a brutal call schedule and find our calendars packed with unproductive meetings and department requirements. It often feels unfair. Get over it and yourself. This is the path you chose to take. Learn strategies to manage your own negative emotions. Complaining gets old and produces no solutions. The opportunities available with your education and set of skills are nearly endless. Move on if you cannot stomach your current reality.

Never stop learning – all things

Medical school and residency leave little time for life. It’s easy to let interests cool and passions fade as the pressure of clinical medicine bears its full weight. Push back. Keep learning and exploring. Some of the most exciting experiences and opportunities come from expanding your mind and learning something foreign.

The lessons learned are many. The stories serve as reminders to try harder, live more fully, and view life in medicine with open eyes and an open mind. The journey is arduous, but the view from the front is fantastic.

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About Mitchel Schwindt, MD

Dr. Mitchel Schwindt is a board-certified emergency medicine physician who practices in a variety of clinical settings. He completed his residency at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As part of Michigan State University, Butterworth was renamed Spectrum Health, and is one of the busiest level 1 emergency and trauma centers in the United States. He served as chief resident his final year. While there he was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, a prestigious medical honor society. He also devoted a significant amount of time working as a flight physician (helicopter) for an aeromedical company.

Dr. Schwindt has served on many committees and steering groups related to health care, quality and process improvement and was a former trauma program medical director. He serves as a volunteer physician for local sporting and martial arts events. He is a consultant and medical advisor to several dental groups and has developed protocols and policies related to medical issues in the dental practice.

Wellness and nutrition are a passionate interest for Dr. Schwindt. He writes extensively on the subject and has published several related books. He is a member of the A4M – The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and is currently pursing a functional and sports medicine fellowship.

In his free time, he enjoys competing in triathlons, skiing, water sports, time with family, foreign travel and pursuing entrepreneurial activities.