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Nick White on the Lessons Software Engineering Can Learn from Multi-Disciplinary Medical Teams

In this podcast, Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Nick White about his experiences as a medical patient under the care of a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary team and the lessons that we can take from that for software engineering.

Key Takeaways

  • The collaborative approach to diagnosis by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists used by the Wellington Regional Hospital Cancer Care Unit
  • With a complex diagnosis like cancer, the range of treatment options is wide and the multi-disciplinary approach enables the best possible combination of treatments and more successful patient outcomes
  • Setting a goal of coming back from the surgery to continue as a mountain runner
  • Running up Mt Fuji to raise funds and awareness for cancer research
  • As technologists we need to be open to learning from other disciplines in areas such as collaboration approaches, dealing with hand-offs and bottle-necks, and customer service

Show Notes

  • 00:45 Introductions
  • 01:09 The high-stakes environment of medical care
  • 02:02 Nick’s story of being diagnosed with cancer
  • 04:23 The shock of the diagnosis and the impact on Nick, his family and friends
  • 05:23 The multi-disciplined approach taken by the cancer treatment unit in Wellington Regional Hospital
  • 06:10 The contrast between this approach and the normal experience of dealing with medical specialists on at a time
  • 06:24 Why this approach is preferred for cancer treatment
  • 07:24 Coming to a consensus opinion quickly and identifying treatment options
  • 08:14 Describing the extensive surgery and treatment Nick was to go through
  • 10:54 24 hours to tell friends and family that he was going in for radical and high-risk surgery
  • 12:35 Coming through the surgery and being unable to speak – communicating using hand-written notes
  • 13:14 The process of getting speech back over 6 months
  • 14:16 Setting goals to come back from the illness to do mountain running
  • 15:18 Registering the run The Goat mountain race prior to the surgery (6 months after the surgery)
  • 16:42 The physical recovery process
  • 17:47 Sneaking in activities to prepare for mountain running
  • 19:00 Running The Goat six months after surgery
  • 19:35 Continuing mountain running as the recovery progressed
  • 20:54 The path to recovery was not straightforward, there were setbacks and problems along the way
  • 22:16 The value of positive stories for people who are going through cancer treatment
  • 22:47 5 years after surgery patients are considered cancer-free and Nick wanted to do something meaningful to mark the milestone
  • 22:57 Deciding to run up Mt Fuji in Japan to raise funds and awareness for cancer research
  • 23:54 The challenges involved with tackling Mt Fuji
  • 24:48 The goal of running up Mt Fuji and returning to Wellington to give a speech about it to raise funds for the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute
  • 26:17 The goal was to raise $3776, the actual figure raised was $8000
  • 26:48 Bringing these experiences and ideas into working with technical teams as an agile coach
  • 27:03 The importance of trust and communication when under pressure and the stakes are high
  • 27:57 How multi-disciplinary medical teams tackle the problem of hand-offs can provide guidance for software teams
  • 29:09 Be open to learning from other disciplines and approaches
  • 29:57 The example of adventure racing – what ideas can technical teams learn from the way those teams support each other?
  • 30:39 The best teams have a mix of different skills
  • 31:30 Advice for the audience: Look beyond your own profession, see what you can learn from different professions, industries and disciplines and bring the ideas into your own work



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