Wednesday, June 22, 2016

If you could read my mind (Musings on blogging to share TM experiences)

Updated: 23 June 2016
June's blog is a follow-up to an article I wrote for the April issue of the BBTS magazine, BloodLines. In the BBTS piece I speculated on why so few health professionals, working or retired, blog. I'll expand on some of these ideas in the hopes that more transfusion professionals will be encouraged to give it a go and blog for CSTM or BBTS or any professional association in any country.

Now before you rapidly exit ('Blog? Not me!'), please take a chance and at least skim the blog. It's you I'm hoping to reach by planting a seed that maybe, just maybe, you could make a real difference by sharing your experiences with colleagues.

You don't need to be a 'big wheel' to blog. We tiny cogs in the wheel also have much to share. Perhaps we haven't published or presented at conferences. But we've all had unique experiences in our transfusion lives and, in years to come, no one will know if we don't tell our stories.

The blog's title comes from a 1970 song by Canada's Gordon Lightfoot, one of the most covered songs in pop music history. 

So why don't more transfusion professionals blog? There are many reasons, but here are my top three. 

1. No time
Most obviously, and likely the biggest obstacle to blogging, is lack of time. Like many continuing education opportunities these days, folks would need to blog after-hours on their own time. 

With internet and cell phones, many employees may already resent being connected 24-7. When work-life balance is out-of-whack, leisure time with friends and family, as well as time for yourself, becomes even more precious. 

And if you feel devalued by your employer, you may lose the enthusiastic puppy persona you had at the start of your career. Instead of a career, you may see your professional work as just a 9-5 job to earn money, not to gain fulfillment.

2. No incentive

Another obstacle to blogging
 is folks tend to get no credit for blogging. Indeed, blogs may even be dissed by the 'old guard' as not evidence-based, just opinion. Well, yes! Blogs offer OPINIONS on events, issues, and challenges of the day.

But blogs can offer evidence and present logical arguments. In some ways blogs are akin to editorials. Opinions by experienced health professionals can summarize issues, pro and con, and offer food for thought. 

3. Fear of ridicule
Every time you 
  • Open your mouth
  • Give a presentation
  • Put pen to paper
  • Write an e-mail message 
  • Participate in social media of any kind
you may say something silly or indefensible and risk being thought a fool. Been there, done that. Indeed, you may even open yourself up to abuse by pompous academics or online trolls.

But to me the opposite is even worse:
  • To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. (Attributed to...) 
So, why blog, given its risks? Here's where I'll need to self-edit for brevity because I'm definitely a true believer in the merits of blogging.

Given that blogging is an enterprise done on your own time, why do it? 

Why I blog
I blog for 6 key reasons. Blogging...

1. Is a priceless opportunity to comment on issues of the day and try to shape opinion. One example from "Musings on Transfusion Medicine' - my likely futile attempt to shape opinion on paid plasma:
2. Allows us to celebrate colleagues who have made a difference and to record transfusion medicine history through the eyes of those who lived it, the good, bad, and ugly. See, for example, the Canadian Society for Transfusion Medicine (CSTM) blog series, 'I will remember you' (scroll down to see the 6 blogs to date).

About history, Australia and new Zealand offer a great example of how to preserve our past:
3. Makes you a better thinker and writer. It's simply a case of practice improves performance. As noted in my first BBTS blog, 'Born to be Wild', key points to any writing, even e-mail, include
  • Don't bury the lead - reveal blog's aim up front;
  • Make it easy to read by using bullets and short paragraphs;
  • Be as brief as possible;
  • Include a 'so what' statement.
I confess that my blogs are too long. Please don't take them as a model of suitable length. A blog can be short and deal with a single issue or experience. 

4. Creates a record of important experiences and allows others to learn from them. 
I could write a blog about a student I once taught who, during her clinical rotation, missed adding patient plasma to an antibody screen test, causing it to be falsely negative, with the patient receiving incompatible blood by electronic crossmatch. The elderly patient suffered a severe hemolytic transfusion reaction and subsequently died.  
This true episode makes an interesting story of what happened, including the involvement of the hospital's lawyers, the reaction of the supervising technologist and transfusion service medical director. Much to be learned from a single experience, a story worth writing that would be lost forever if not recorded. 
5. Gets your name out there and furthers your career. Of course, blogging requires taking a risk, the risk of opening your mouth and being thought a fool. No big deal. I have a T-shirt from LSOFT:
  • "He Who Dares, Wins" (motto of the British Special Air Service)
6. Is great fun. Fact is, I enjoy poking the powers-that-be and sending up the absurdities in our professional lives. Someone has to do it.

Expressing opinions on current issues and examining the past are valuable ways to spend one's time. So seldom today do we get the opportunity to reflect. And blogging invariably serves as informal continuing education because bloggers need to check they're not spouting total B.S.

Some claim that in today's milieu, folks no longer have the time, no longer care to spend free time on their careers. Please, let's prove this judgement wrong.

My take on blogging: It's a blast! I maintain three blogs, two professional and one personal where I pretty much rant about whatever bugs me at the time. The personal blog is therapy that keeps me sane. 

The professional blogs are my way to try to influence opinion, to motivate colleagues to think differently and challenge orthodoxies. You can too! We're here for such a short time. Why not try to make a difference?

Plus we need to create a historical record of our stories or they will be lost forever. See, for example,
Making colleagues smile also serves a valuable purpose. What struck you as silly recently? Why not blog about it? If you want to try blogging for CSTM, I'd be glad to help by offering my 2¢ worth (make that 'nickel's worth', as cent coins/pennies don't exist in Canada any more).

To inquire about blogging, please e-mail
Finally, I encourage bloggers to write their passions and will end with this quote by Canada's Margaret Laurence (click to enlarge):

Margaret Laurence quote

Lightfoot's 'If You Could Read my Mind' seems right for this blog. Fact is, no one can read our minds. If we don't spill the beans and blog about our experiences, no one will ever know. 
If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie,
'Bout a ghost from a wishing well.
In a castle dark or a fortress strong,
With chains upon my feet.
You know that ghost is me.
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see. 
If I could read your mind, love,
What a tale your thoughts could tell.
Just like a paperback novel,
The kind the drugstores sell...

As always, comments are most welcome.