Yerkes Dodson Law

Junior doctors change specialties every 4-6 months.  So one day you could be working as an Accident & Emergency doctor and the next you could be working as a Paediatrician.

This is an overwhelming experience.  Imagine having to potentially give CPR to a new-born baby on your first day of work!  That feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing doesn’t disappear until you’re about a month to a month and a half into the rotation.  At that point if you’re not personally interested in the specialty then your mind tends to switch off, go into autopilot until the end of the rotation when that overwhelming fear starts again.

I recently came across the Yerkes Dodson Law.

2000px-hebbianyerkesdodson-svgThe Yerkes Dodson Law

The Yerkes Dodson Law states that trying a little harder and being continuously challenged on a regular basis is the key to continual growth.  Essentially this means that if you’re not being pushed continuously then the stimulus to get better disappears.

The problem is that as a junior doctor you are often exposed to problems way beyond what you have encountered before.

Academics have some disagreement amongst themselves, but it is generally agreed that being pushed 4% beyond what you can manage is the optimum amount of stimulus you need to keep growing.  Being pushed beyond this often is just too overwhelming and leads to mistakes and mismanagement.

It is interesting to note that studies have shown that because of the above, even the best senior medical physician becomes deskilled over time.  Surgeons, however, are the only group of physician that improve over time.  Why?  If they mess up then the patient dies on the table.


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