13 Lessons I Learned from Dr. James Andrews

One of the most influential people in my career has no doubt been Dr. James Andrews.

Many know Dr. Andrews as one of the most prolific and acclaimed orthopedic surgeons of our generation. Heck, he’s been named the Most Influential Man in Sports, which is pretty impressive for someone on the medical side of sports.

But I’m pretty fortunate to know Dr. Andrews as a friend and mentor, someone that has shaped my clinical skills, my work ethic, and my entire career.

I spent nearly 10 years working directly with Dr. Andrews, from a research assistant at ASMI to a PT clinical student to a Sports Physical Therapy Fellow, and finally to a member of his sports medicine team in Birmingham. I’m also fortunate to continue to conduct research, speak at conferences, and collaborate on patient care with Dr. Andrews.

While I’ve learned countless lessons from Dr. Andrews, I spent the day with him recently at the APTA Combined Sections Meeting where we both spoke together in an education session, and later that evening Dr. Andrews was honored with the Sports Section’s most prestigious award.

4 Great Quotes from Dr. James Andrews

During his presentation in our educational session, he showed one slide towards the end with four amazing quotes that I just had to share.

I sat back, listened to Dr. Andrews discuss each of these and thought to myself, wow, the majority of people on social media right now are breaking each of these rules daily.

If you are still talking about what you did yesterday, you are not really doing much today

Many of you know that one of the key principles of my career is never to stop learning. When I look at this first quote, I think of all the people on social media that are busy defending their opinions rather than keeping an open mind and growing. This creates a really poor learning environment when you do this, as you are constantly trying to defend your position, rather than growing and evolving your position as new evidence and experience emerge.

I don’t ever want to be the maker of the big statement, it may come back to haunt you

It’s so easy now to get online, grow a following, and become an influencer. It’s super common now to see people with limited experience making BIG statements because they get caught up in a recent trend, worse, internet marketing.

You don’t want to say something you are going to regret in 5 years. Trust me, my opinions continue to evolve as I learn and grow. I know that everything I teach now will likely be at least a little different in the future.

That’s called growth. Remember when we thought the earth was flat?

Don’t make the big statement. You’re either going to change your mind in the future or worse, spend your efforts defending your big statement instead of evolving.

In medicine, there’s no such thing as always and never

Just another great example of big statements. I’ve worked with many people in my career that speak with “always” and “never.” Nothing is definitive, especially in medicine.

More importantly, if you think this way, you are again sabotaging your ability to grow.

I’m still listening and learning

Probably the most impactful statement of the presentation in my mind, spurring me to post this on Instagram:

Dr. James Andrews, the most renowned orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine, a man that has been practicing sports medicine for almost 50 years, is still listening and learning at this point in his career and life.

Yet how many people do you see on social media that aren’t listening or learning?

If there’s one thing you can take from this article, keep listening and learning.

Dr. James Andrews’ 9 Keys to Patient Care

Later that evening, Kevin Wilk had the honor of introducing Dr. Andrews during the awards ceremony. As part of Kevin’s presentation, he shared Dr. Andrews’ Patient Philosophy.

These 9 keys to patient care are something Dr. Andrews has followed his entire career. To this day, he continues to carry these with him on a little card in his wallet.

1. Listen to the Patient
2. One Must Always be Able to “Read the Patient”
3. The Patient is Always Right

The first keys are all related to your interactions with the patient. Communication and interpersonal skills are just as important as clinical skills in medicine. People want to be heard and are coming to us to help them.

One common mistake I see in young clinicians make is the desire to impress the patient with their knowledge. To truly help people, you need to connect with them first. As the phrase goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It’s really important that you focus on these people skills just as much as your clinical skills.

4. Make the Patient Feel They Were Treated Properly by Their Previous Physician
5. Do Not Say Anything About Another Person

The next two keys focus on your interpersonal skills with other professionals. I can’t tell you how common it is to hear that a patient saw a new clinician and all that clinician talked about was how poorly the previous person was.

Everything is easier to see in hindsight. Don’t make judgments on what others have done in the past because you were not there.

Another point to remember is that the patient likely has a connection to the people in their past. Speaking negatively about them is only going to hurt your new relationship with this specific patient.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in these situations before and have observed people try to get ahead in life by bringing others down. Don’t be that person.

6. Do Not Be the First Person to Make the BIG Statement
7. Always Be Open-Minded

These next two keys are very similar to the lessons learned above, but again another great reminder. Keep listening and learning.

8. Attitude, Responsibility, Knowledge, Desire, and Availability are Always Necessary to be Successful
9. The Physician Must be Confident with Their Diagnosis and Skills. Their Confidence is Reflected Back and Perceived by the Patient

The last two keys are finally about you and your interactions with the patient.

Much of this comes with experience. But even with limited experience, you can show compassion and sincerely want to help people.

You also must be confident in your own self. It is very transparent and easily noticed by the patient if you have any doubt. If there is a specific area that you are not confident in, you owe it to yourself and your patients to become more knowledgeable in that area, so you can become more confident as well.

What to Do Next?

I’m super proud to be able to share the things that I have learned from Dr. Andrews over the years and hope they help you too.

If I were you, I would share and save this article and reflect back on it routinely. I have done this throughout my career and will continue to do so.