Getting the Right Answers

Jan 06 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I am still working like a fiend to get something done for a deadline later this month. It must be ready before I go back on the inpatient service next week and attend Science Online 2012 the following week. I do not mind last-minute tweaking, but I do not want to write the whole damn thing the day before.

This situation considerably limits my blogging time.

This morning, I browsed my LinkedIn headlines. If you haven't been over to "Facebook for Professionals" recently, you may not know about this feature. Based on your interests and groups, you receive 3 links to stories each day (sometimes more if you click over there throughout the day). One today, from Harvard Business Review Blogs, discussed The Art of Asking Questions.

As Ron Ashkenas points out, people rarely consider how well they ask questions:

 From my experience, most managers don't think about this issue. After all, you don't usually find "the ability to ask questions" on any list of managerial competencies; nor is it an explicit part of the curriculum of business schools or executive education programs. But asking questions effectively is a major underlying part of a manager's job — which suggests that it might be worth giving this skill a little more focus.

His post provides some interesting views of this skill in the business arena, but he misses the most important point of all: Asking the right question! In science, we often ask questions, test a hypothesis, and get results that make no sense. The ability to take those crazy data and ask the next critical question is a key skill in science, often the difference between success and mediocrity.

In medicine, asking the right question becomes a matter of life and death (or prolonged sickness vs. speedy recovery). Asking the patient for the key piece of history or ordering the correct test are clearly crucial. If you don't measure the blood pressure, you will never diagnose hypertension!

When I assess students, I always comment on the questions they ask. Their questions show me how much basic physiology they have retained and how well they can use the information. Students who ask no questions in clinic are uninterested at best. Those who ask great questions are the stars.

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