“35 years of experience.”
At least, that’s what the sign on his office door said. Still, she never woke up from the operating table, slipping from this world without ever knowing. No chance to say goodbye to her family. She was dead.
Her name was Jill Lyons, a 55-year-old teacher and the mother of two young girls. He was Dr Glen Childs, a cardiothoracic surgeon.
After getting sick, Jill realised something wasn’t right. Within days it was clear this wasn’t just a cold. Her husband raced her to the hospital, where doctors began tests, inserted tubes, and took images. The diagnosis was in.
Jill had developed bacterial endocarditis. It’s a life-threatening infection where bacteria get inside the heart.
The endocardium is the inner heart layer, and this is bad. Our heart valves are also part of this endocardial layer. This means that the infection was destroying Jill’s heart valves. Without them, she can’t pump enough blood to the rest of her body. She needed surgery immediately.
The operating room was prepped, and the hospital searched frantically for the cardiothoracic surgeon on duty. Dr Glen Childs. He was a talented surgeon with over thirty-five years of practice. He had performed thousands of surgeries. He had a stellar record and was well respected. Still, Jill died. But how?
Dr Childs was experienced. It should have been a straightforward procedure. He had attached Jill’s replacement valves the wrong way around. It was later revealed that this was the first time he performed this procedure as the lead surgeon.
35 years of experience, and Jill still died.
Dr Childs might have had 35 years of experience, but for a procedure he wasn’t familiar with, it may as well have been none. Dr Childs isn’t the only person misguided by the lie of experience – we all are.
We all grow up and eventually get a job. This requires learning. If you have a trade, you will spend some years learning it. If you go to university, you will spend some years studying and some years learning on the job. That’s when it ends. You fall into the rut of your work. You stop learning.
Just like Dr Childs discovered, a wealth of experience doesn’t mean much. When it came to something he wasn’t familiar with, his 35 years counted for little. It’s not the time of your experience, but your experience in that time.
So when I hear someone saying they have 20 years of experience, I think:
Do you really have twenty years of experience or one year that you’ve repeated twenty times?
When we stop learning and improving ourselves, we switch life from shuffle to repeat, and even the best song will drive you crazy when it’s all there is.
This answer was inspired by a medical case in Australia a few years ago. I have changed the original names.Published in