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Out-Sitting the Competition

How I learned that in order to be successful, I needed to be the first one to show up and the last one to leave.

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As a Board-Certified cardiovascular surgeon, I had a very long and strenuous formal education. After graduating from high school, I completed 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of general surgery residency, and 2 years of cardiovascular surgery fellowship. It was a 15-year journey, and when I graduated and took my first job, I was 33 years old. As young people are now beginning to head back to school, with summer drawing to a close, I would like to offer some advice that may be helpful for those interested in achieving academic success.

I’d like to share a memory from my own educational experience. July 1, 1995 was the first day of my general surgical residency. I was 26 years-old, a brand-new medical school graduate, and had a lot of schooling already under my belt. That said, this day, I would find out that I still had a lot to learn about being the best student I could be.

All of the surgical trainees were gathered in one room on this very special opening day to the academic year. We were seated in the hospital library at 7 a.m. awaiting the arrival of the Chairman of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Charles Sills. And, without any particular fanfare or warning, right on time, Dr. Sills entered the room. He took a seat in a conspicuously vacant chair at the head of a large conference table.  Sills was a small man, impeccably dressed in a suit and tie and immaculately groomed. The room became silent and without any warm welcome he began to speak.

He said, “This is graduate level education. Some of you may be under the impression that this is a teaching hospital. If so, you are mistaken. This is, however, a learning hospital. You are here to learn. If you wish to learn and make it your business to learn, there is much knowledge to be taken from this extraordinary institution. That said, if you expect me to come in here and read the textbook of surgery to you, you will be sorely disappointed. You are here to learn the art of surgical care and technique. You are also here to learn the discipline of independence and responsibility.” Already, this physically diminutive man had made a very big impression on me. He had my complete attention. He continued, “All things going according to plan, you will be in this hospital, or one of our affiliated hospitals, every day for the next 5 years – either because you are working or because you are so sick, you are here as a patient.” Clearly, this was an individual who was looking for students who were fully committed to the process. Half-hearted participants were not going to graduate this program. That was obvious from the outset.

Then Dr. Sills wrapped up his talk with a brief synopsis of how he had become a Board-Certified thoracic surgeon, chairman of a surgical department with an accredited residency training program and a successful business person. He said, “I am who I am because I out-sat everybody.” I had no idea what he meant. Fortunately, he went on to explain. “You see,” he continued,” what I did my entire life was get to the library first, sit down, and begin to read. Later, the other good students would begin to arrive. And I would keep reading. We would all be there together… sitting and reading. And then, after some hours had passed, they would begin to leave, one by one. I would read until it was finally just me and one other person. And I would keep reading. Ultimately, the last person would pick up their belongings and leave. And, I would be all alone in the library again. At that moment, I would look at the clock on the wall for the first time.  I would take note of the time and read for 10 more minutes. Then, and only then, I would pack up my books and leave. I owe all of my success in school, and in life, to out-sitting the competition.”

From that day on, I studied like Dr. Sills. If you wish to be highly successful in school and in life, I suggest you take a page out of this great man’s book as well. This approach to academic greatness works like unadulterated magic. He never shared with us his IQ. It was completely immaterial. He only shared the technique with which he built a fabulous career and lifestyle – he out-sat everyone. It’s a simple process. It may not be easy, but it is simple. See how it works for you. I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

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