THE INCOMPARABLE MR. B

If you’re a student, at whatever level, once in a while you come across an instructor, a teacher, or a professor that inspires you in just the right way. If it’s a subject you’re having trouble with, or don’t enjoy, a good instructor can turn your attitude around very quickly. In my educational experience, there have been classes I’ve attended that I had already convinced myself I would dislike, only to have an instructor show me the magic in gaining new knowledge.

Conversely, sadly, there are those instructors, for whatever reason, who can take a profoundly interesting subject and turn the course of study sideways, and you end up resenting the material. Fortunately, I have not encountered many of these people.

A good instructor will inspire you, challenge you, keep you on your toes, encourage you, motivate you when you are wrong, and make the subject mean something to you personally. When I was training to become a Medical Assistant, I was fortunate enough to have one of those instructors. Let’s call him Mr. B.

The man himself was an achievement of overcoming and succeeding. He was a former Army combat medic. He had a degree in education. Who better to teach this class?

Mr. B is one of the most well-known Medical Assistants in all of Seattle. He has no particular clinic, but whenever a hospital or facility is in dire need of an elite MA, they call Mr. B. And he has such a passion for the subject, he also is an instructor.

To start with, Mr B.’s class was a heck of a lot of fun: Clinical and Administrative Review. It was in my third of four quarters. Mr. B. had designed the class so that everything we had learned in the first two quarters was applied in a mock clinical environment. Every class, Mr B. had one student act as the Medical Assistant, while the other was the patient. He would give each class member an assignment; perhaps the acting MA would need to room the patient and perform and ECG, and we would have limited time to do it. It was his own way of simulating the pace and occasional chaos of working in an actual clinical environment.

Mr. B would put on his lab coat/J.P. Patches coat, call himself Doctor Over (I never got that one) and bark and yell at us while we scrambled to get things done. If I asked him where the 4×4 sterile gauze was, he would reply: “I dunno. It’s your clinic. Go find it. Hurry up.”

When we would wrap up for the day, and he would give us an assessment of our performance, he was so motivational, so animated, so passionate about what we were learning. You couldn’t help but pay attention. You couldn’t help but want to succeed.

He was a personable man as well. When I was having trouble with another instructor, which is a story for another time, he backed me up as I made my concerns known to the program director. He told me: “Your perception is your reality.” He was always encouraging us to advocate for ourselves, to be proud in our accomplishments, but humble in our practice.

That wasn’t to say he wouldn’t push us. I remember one day, in my little exam room in the corner of the lab, I was palpating the radial pulse of a patient, looking at my wristwatch, while surreptitiously counting the patient’s respirations. From clear across the lab, Mr. B. looked up, marched over to me like a drill instructor, and asked if I could see the respirations with my head at that angle. “How many then, Andrick?” “Uh, at this point, 16, sir.” “And what’s the pulse, Andrick?” “Uh…. Er… I’ve forgotten sir.” “Do it again, Andrick,” he would say as he marched off.

Since there were an odd number of students in our class, on a few occasions Mr. B. was my patient. Hoo-boy. He would give me tasks to perform on him, while simultaneously watching the rest of the class. I was using the sphygmomanometer to measure his blood pressure. That’s rather difficult to do in a noisy room. Over the din and ruckus of the class room, I barely heard the systolic. Okay, I thought, here comes the diastolic. Wait for it…. At this point, Mr B. leaps out his chair, runs across the room, and motivates another student. I’m left with my stethoscope, confused.

Because of Covid restrictions, we were not allowed to draw blood in a class in the previous quarter, phlebotomy. We practiced on dummy arms. However, as the school implemented safety precautions, we were allowed to infrequently practice our needlework. In Clinical and Administrative Review, I actually got to draw blood, twice. It’s an MA skill I still find challenging; someday I will be the Vein Hunter. The first time I successfully drew blood was from the class alpha, Heidie. She and I had become good friends, so I’m not exactly sure how I did. I knew I had hit the vein, but as I turned back from discarding the needle in the sharps container, Heidie had already slapped a bandaid on her puncture site. “You did fine, Andrick,” she said. She was very kind.

The second time I drew blood was from Mr B himself. I successfully got the needle in, saw a flash of blood in the base of the tube, and went to insert the specimen container. “Take the needle out, Andrick,” said Mr. B. “Sir?” “Take the needle out and safety it.” I did so, quickly, as he bolted from his chair, ran across the room, and admonished someone for using the ECG improperly. It’s difficult to be an MA when your patient keeps running out of the room.

Sometime after school was over, and I was starting my new job, I emailed Mr. B for last-minute advice. This is what he wrote me:

Andrick,

Congratulations! I am so happy for you; I wish you all the best in life and your career.

Here is my last-minute advice for you( excerpts from 30 ways to shine as a New Employee, Milt Wright et al).

  1. You are not in a contest! If you are feeling unsure about your ability to do things right, to prove yourself and to look good in comparison to everyone else, remember that the very fact you got the job means you have already won the employer’s confidence. You’ve earned the job offer so there is nothing here to win or prove- now you are here to work!
  2. The only thing you have to prove is that you are teachable! There are only two things you need to demonstrate to your employer at this stage of the game. They are :
    a. You are an eager learner and
    b. You are not afraid to admit what you do not know.
    If you can show that you are teachable, you are halfway there!
  3. 80% of success is just showing up! 80% of success is showing up, 20% is being there once you arrive!
  4. You are incomparable! You do not have to worry about comparing yourself with anyone because you are incomparable! You are not competing with your co-workers; you’re playing in the same team! What the employer cares about is how the company looks in comparison to its competitors.
  5. Focus on Progress, not perfection! Only you can truly know what progress means for you, because you’re the only one who knows where you are starting from! with that said, make sure you are following standard of care and company rules and procedures.
  6. Measure your progress Bit by Bit! Abraham Lincoln once noted that ” the best thing about the future is it only comes one day at a time”.

Please do keep in touch and keep me updated on your journey! The school year has been challenging and hectic for me, but we will always adjust and adapt!

Sincerely,

Mr. B

We have kept in sporadic touch, and I intend to write him again in a few months to let him know how I am coming along. But what a gift to have had an instructor like this. So knowledgeable in his field, so personable in his style, and so enthusiastic and uplifting in his character. I’ll never forget when he emailed me when my father passed away.

The last two weeks of Mr B’s class were spent on advanced life-support. These are skills that are a must in a healthcare facility, and invaluable out in the world. The last day of class, when he was wrapping up, the jovial Mr. B lowered his voice. I will always remember his words: “These skills that I’m teaching you, please remember them well. I only wish someone had been around who knew these skills for my son, who would have been 25 next week.”

The room got very quiet. We are professionals. We do our best to not show emotional reaction with a patient. But I am also human. I lowered my head to my desk as tears formed.

Thank you, Mr. B!

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