Lately I’ve been blogging about dark and sinister subjects: the perfect drug as a murder weapon, ten ways to create a bloodless murder and zombie invasions. I appreciate all the enthusiastic responses to those, but today I’m going to write about something a bit more personal.
For most of my life I’ve been a practicing pharmacist. Each day I would draw on my professional experience and use every tidbit of education to make appropriate clinical decisions. Like so many other professionals, I was doing the work I was trained to do and loved every minute of it. I was also secure in the knowledge that I was very good at what I did and was making a difference in people’s lives.
So why did it rub me wrong when others would jokingly ask, “Practicing, huh? When do you think you’ll get it right?”
I laughed at the jokes but inwardly seethed. How could someone mock that by which I defined myself? One day, though, I took a mental step back to analyze that old joke. I remember rubbing my chin as I attempted a philosophical approach. Was I any different in how I managed my career than the physician to whom I trusted my health? After all, he practiced medicine. Absurdly, I wondered, “Does he practice on me, maybe to get it right later with another patient?”
One summer in my youth I practiced getting better at baseball. I was never very good, but that summer I managed to hit consistently two out of three pitches. Was my doctor’s average like that, getting it right two-thirds of the time? And where did I fit into that equation? Was I one of the lucky two? That kind of success rate in my practice wouldn’t win me any fans. If I managed to get the right drug to the right person only two out of three times, all I’d gain would be a bunch of lawsuits.
So why are many health professions called a PRACTICE? If I went to my financial advisor and asked if he were practicing his profession, he’d probably say, “I do better than practice. I try to get it right.” Is his profession any more exacting than pharmacy? He doesn’t always get my investments right. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, and then I take a tax loss. In pharmacy, however, when we lose, there’s no tax advantage. The results are grief-ridden and often life threatening.
Eventually I concluded that the benefit of PRACTICING your profession is to always get better at it. Most people are good at their jobs and mistakes happen only rarely. I might get upset if my financial advisor makes a less than perfect judgment where to invest my hard-earned money, but at the end of the day life still goes on. When I practiced pharmacy, it was intense stuff: clinical trials, intravenous therapies and life or death situations. If I had made less than perfect judgments regarding those therapies, there was a real possibility that someone would die as a result. There was no “Oops, I’ll do better next time”.
The wisdom in understanding why some professions are called PRACTICES and others are known as WORK or ART is this. My work as a novelist is an expression of art; but if I don’t get the story right the first time, it’s not a problem. No one dies; no one has a funeral (except maybe for one of my characters). I get a “do-over”, even more than one if necessary. Writers are lucky in that way, except when the rewrites and edits go on and on and on—but that’s another whole blog.
The point is most people try to get it right the first time and have a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. But in the practice of a profession, not only do you want to get it right the first time, you continually practice to assure that it happens every time.
In the end, as much as I liked pharmacy practice, I love writing even more because, instead of potentially burying any mistakes, I can simply bury the red herring and that’s not frowned upon.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!