Priyanka Upendra: Push Through Setbacks, Learn, and Move On

If you could go back to your early days as a biomedical equipment technician or clinical engineer, would you?

For me, at one level, the answer is an obvious “yes.” If I hadn’t worked on the different types of medical equipment, been part of research and development before joining the healthcare technology management (HTM) field, or made the mistakes I did, I would lack a lot of the foundation that my role necessitates today. In addition to the seasoned professionals that helped me learn the do’s and don’ts of HTM, learning from setbacks and mistakes has had a major role in shaping my career.

Let me share two experiences that have helped me grow as well as cultivate a sense of optimism—an absolute necessity in our world.

Lesson 1: Don’t Let Setbacks Trip You Up

Setbacks happen to all of us. As a newbie in the operating room (OR) team, I was anxious and a super nervous person, to say the least. I didn’t want to mess up anything! I lacked the confidence to attend the OR service calls by myself. I needed someone from my team to accompany me. Then, the one time I decided to “go for it” without the spirit of fear, I messed it up (big time)!

It was a spine surgery of some sort (fusion or a foraminotomy) and the wall monitor would not display the images from the microscope. The surgeon and support personnel were anxiously waiting for a biomed—me—to fix the problem. Call it overconfidence or the hurry to fix things, but I went on to swap the s-video cables that were beyond my 5’5” reach without using a step stool. I’m sure you know what’s coming next. I tripped and fell, displacing things here and there. I panicked, as did a couple others in the OR.

The surgeon, in a very harsh and loud voice, told me to “get out.”

Although this incident had my team members (very friendly and caring folks) laughing, it kind of crashed my confidence. How could I have been so stupid? It took me a week to even go back inside an OR to attend calls by myself. Instead of letting the spirit of fear take over during that time, I could have gained value from that experience and used my service recovery skills to not let it happen again. Most important, I could have shared the lessons learned with my team, laughed, and moved on.

I’m sure a lot of young professionals go through a similar experience when they face a setback during their initial days. My advice is to take a deep breath and learn from them. It’s OK—these kinds of incidents happen to all of us.

Lesson #2: Admit When You Don’t Know Something

By being upfront about what you do and do not know, you will gain more than just the respect of your peers. It will also give you peace of mind and help you learn.

Who knew there would be a different set of firewall rules between two wings of a hospital? Back in early 2013, I didn’t. I wasn’t even sure how to get past these rules creating exception requests and working alongside IT security or IT network operations.

It was Friday evening and just a handful of us were supporting a 384-bed hospital and six ORs. I was on call that week and was scheduled to set up a Polycom system for a neonatologist to consult with a patient located in Hong Kong.

I felt skeptical and worried that something might go wrong. The dedicated A/V engineer on my team trusted me to take care of his set of tasks while he was on vacation. The obvious thing happened, as it often does with telemedicine systems. The Polycom system did not work.

With six calls pending resolution and the neonatologist yelling at me, I had a breakdown. The doctor escalated the issue, and my assistant director came running. Tensions were high, the technical issues persisted, the systems wouldn’t work, we had three more ORs waiting on support—and I started crying. I felt guilty that patient access and system availability was affected because I couldn’t get the systems up and running on time.

What I should have done is reach out to an engineer more experienced in IT, been prepared ahead of time, and followed a critical downtime procedure. Lesson learned.

By now, you know what I’m getting at. Setbacks and mistakes are inevitable and unavoidable in the kind of work we do in HTM. It’s OK to experience them. What’s most important is to learn, to prepare, and to use resources effectively to minimize impact and work through these issues in an efficient manner.

In our work environment, or even outside of work, we need to develop a mindset that fails forward fast and always creates a sense of optimism.

Priyanka Upendra is compliance program director at Banner Health and an active member of several AAMI committees, including the Technology Management Council and BI&T Editorial Board.

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