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“We are all here to help each other do better."

Please note: The following article is the speech Corinna CD Franklin, MD, president of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS), delivered at the RJOS Annual Meeting on February 12, 2024, in San Francisco, California.

"Thank you, Dr. Russo, for that lovely intro, and especially for your incredible work this year.


Good evening, everyone. Let me say first what an honor it is to be in front of all of you tonight, and how humbled I am to be the next president of this great organization.


I want to start by talking about two women I love, and some mistakes they have made.


Abby Wambach is one of the greatest soccer players of all time (and my personal favorite); she’s arguably the greatest American soccer player ever. She has been looked up to by scores of women and girls. However, in 2016 she got a DUI, letting down everyone who admired her; she now speaks candidly about that moment as a turning point in her life, when she made an intentional decision to “make that moment into the best thing that ever happened to [her], a start to a better life.”


Michelle Obama, another woman I love, is known for promoting healthful eating. As first lady, she championed the importance of nutrition for children. But in her autobiography, Becoming, she talks about being chastised by her pediatrician for her girls’ unhealthful eating habits; this was humiliating for her, but since that time she has learned and grown into the health advocate that we know her as today.


Both of these women took tremendous risks in admitting and talking about these things—both of these women have been relentlessly scrutinized and criticized, often for who they were rather than what they do. But, in making these admissions, they show us what it takes to truly know yourself, and how to learn and get better. I think there is an important lesson for all of us in that.


I’m going to make a judgement here and guess that many of us got here by some degree of perfectionism—in school, in sports. It’s hard to get to be a doctor—much less, an orthopaedic surgeon—without doing well in school, and that alone is usually not enough. As we see now it often takes an exceptional, maybe even unblemished, record to get to where we all are—and it can be very hard to let go of those tendencies. But once we get here, to the real world of medicine and surgery, things are vastly more complicated and unpredictable, and it’s impossible to be perfect—and I want to talk about what we do when things don’t go the way we planned.


There are a lot of reasons to be afraid of making mistakes:

– Fear of looking stupid

– Fear of looking like you didn’t earn your place

– Fear of damaging your self-image

– These fears might be compounded if you’re already singled out--many of us might be the only woman, or the only Black woman, or the only queer woman in our practices

– Most importantly, it’s painful to acknowledge that something that we have done can hurt patients—that we have hurt patients.


It might feel easier not to acknowledge when things don’t go well, even to ourselves; or it might feel easier not to put ourselves in a situation where we might make a mistake. We might not:

– Ask a question

– Argue with someone senior

– Ask for help when we need it

– Acknowledge in the OR that something has gone wrong.


We might even deflect blame to other people (though of course when we blame anesthesia that’s correct).


It might feel like retreating from being wrong keeps us safe—and that safety soothes our need for perfectionism. But keeping ourselves safe in this way ultimately diminishes us profoundly.


There are pernicious results of not admitting when things don’t go as planned:

– We can’t learn

– We can’t get better at what we do

– Without being willing to be wrong, we can’t take risks; we can’t innovate: in the OR, in our research.


Also, fundamentally people are owed the truth:

– Patients & families, to understand what happened

– Trainees, so they can learn

Finally, only when we admit to problems can we fix them.


When ready to face our mistakes, who should they be admitted to?

– Ourselves, first of all

– Our patients, in the right context

– If you’re a student or resident, your teachers/attendings, so you can learn

– If you’re an attending, your trainees, so they can learn.


Also, you have to have someone to call

– We all do!

– I have called many of the people in this room (and some of them have called me)

– No one can do this alone, and we all need a team to lift each other up.


So you all may be wondering, as I give you this advice, Dr Franklin, what mistakes have YOU made (and what did you learn)? As evidenced by the prior photos, my hair has been every imaginable color, and not all of it worked.


More seriously, I have made errors in judgement:

– Going to the OR too soon

– Waiting too long to go to the OR;

I have made errors in technique, such as every imaginable iteration of patellar stabilization.


BUT, I have learned from all of this; if I am now an expert on anything, it is only because when I made mistakes, I accepted that I made them, and learned how to not do them again; every time I get through something difficult I am both faster and better at easy things and more capable of taking on things that are hard.


I’m not saying I’m great at admitting when I’m wrong (in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not great at it; I encourage you not to ask my husband about this)—but I’m saying it’s something that I know that I have to do. We can acknowledge that it’s hard, but as Abby says, we can do hard things—we should be brave, and we should be truthful. We should be curious about who we are, and what we need to do. These are complicated times—to be a doctor, to be a woman, to live in the world at all—but we are all here to help each other do better. This is an amazing community; grappling with our missteps will make us stronger, and doing it together will make it easier. We are here together now because of all the work that’s been done by amazing women in the past, starting with Ruth herself.

As we go forward we will continue to build this community—to strengthen each other, to push each other, to lift each other up. We may still be few but we are mighty, and together we can be extraordinary.

Thank you very much!

Yes, sign me up!

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