We were asked to describe the most notable instance of harsh criticism
experienced in our professional careers, and to say whether it was
helpful or harmful.
Naturally, most of us are our own harshest critics, so my harshest
criticism came from myself.
What is odd, is the way this came about and affected me.
During one of the first rotations in my second year of residency, at
the end, the attending gave me an assessment form. It
appeared to be a form for me to use to describe my experience in the
I dutifully filled it out, have gotten used to doing paperwork that
seemed pointless. On the form, I was asked to describe what i
thought my strong points were, and to name some areas where I though I
needed some improvement. I turned it in, and forgot about it.
At the end of my second year, as usual, I was called in to meet with
the residency director. It was a routine thing. She
was going to review my experience, go over my evaluations, see if I had
any questions, things like that.
She pulled out a stack of papers, and immediately got a very concerned
look on her face. She said that one of my supervisors had
mentioned several areas that he thought needed improvement.
I was shocked. In general, my evaluations had been positive.
To have a list of things that “need improvement” was
unprecedented, in my experience. I felt awful.
She asked what I thought of it.
I did think about it, for a bit. Then I realized: all those
supposed criticisms were things I had written myself,
several months ago.
What my supervisor had done, was to ask me to criticize myself, then
pass on those criticisms as his own. Plagiarism, in a sense.
He was new there, and I had had the privilege of being the first
resident he’d supervised. So the residency director was not
on to his method, yet.
So I regained my composure, which I don’t think had been lost, from the
perspective of an external observer, anyway, and said, in a
matter-of-fact way, that those were all criticisms had I written
myself. I did not know if they represented actual deficits
that would be apparent to others. I explained about the form
I had filled out. She nodded, put the paper aside, and that
was the end of it.
I was, frankly, pissed off at the supervisor who had done that.
But I never had to work with him again. The whole
thing passed with no particular consequence.
Did it have any effect on my, positive or negative?
Well, it taught me to keep my mouth shut. I’ve never been a
big proponent of self-disclosure, and this experience prompted me to be
even more reticent about my self-criticisms.
I’m still my harshest critic, but now I keep it to myself.