Donald Armstrong: The Lessons We Can Learn from New Employees

I was working in my shop with a new employee and one of my favorite songs came on Pandora. My colleague declared, “I hate this song.” I was stunned! How could anyone hate Hotel California? I have loved this song for 40 years. How, I wondered, could we have anything in common if we have such markedly different opinions on something as basic as music?

I asked my co-worker why he hated the song, and he replied with very thoughtful reasons. It was not what I expected, having anticipated a snarky response or wisecrack. I was impressed by his comments and reconsidered: Is it possible we did have more in common than I initially thought?

Hmmmm.

That encounter started me thinking: I have as much to learn from him as he does from me. I have always known that we have a lot to teach our new employees. With 30 years of experience, it is part of my job to teach and mentor newer technicians. But what I realized that day—something I should have realized a long time ago—is that learning is a two-way street. People come to our field with skillsets and perspectives that the most experienced techs can lack.

Consider the fact that some of our new techs have military backgrounds. Many have traveled the globe (something I have not done) and have an incredible perspective on our world. They have a very direct way of communicating and how leadership could work with its employees. The best example of what we could learn from newer colleagues simply may be developing an appreciation for the fact that there are different approaches to work completion and efficiency. I’ve found that technicians who come to us from the military, as well as those with an industry background, bring refreshing insights on the overall work model. We could gain so much from listening and learning about their earlier professional experiences.

Having a new set of eyes and a new heart for our profession is a great thing to welcome and foster. When new colleagues come into our shop, it is certainly important to train and mentor them to the ways of the traditional biomed roles. But we need to open ourselves up to what we could learn from them.

From second- and third-career folks and, yes, even the millennials (who get a bad rap), we can learn so much and should try to mine these precious resources and not keep them down. Foster enthusiasm from the younger ones and glean the wisdom from our not-so-young new co-workers.

Keep in mind that you were once the new person in the shop and felt you had something to contribute. The same holds true today for your new employees. The job market is so competitive, and we need good people to help us grow and move forward.

So even if the refrain of, “You could check out any time you like, but you can never leave” is not one of your favorite lyrics, you could still probably teach me a thing or two.

Good luck, and keep your minds and hearts open because there are many diamonds out there just waiting to shine.

Donald Armstrong, CBET, CHTM, works in the Clinical Technology and Biomedical Engineering Department at Stanford Health Care in California. He is a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council.

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