Just learning code isn’t enough

My combination of clinical experience, physics/engineering education, coding skills and releasing an app has put me on a collision course with many conversations with doctors on coding. There seems to be a common theme arising from them. They want to learn code, they want to develop fancy programs and they want to be good at it. Some have even expressed admiration for people like Zuckerberg. His success is alluring, he dropped out of college and developed facebook in his bedroom. It is now worth billions. However, for the average doctor or nurse simply learning code isn’t enough.

If you want to make money or an meaningful impact just by writing code you have to be very good at it. You have to be better than most, constantly evolve, keep up with the latest developments, write in multiple languages and spend most of your time on developing/coding. As a doctor or nurse you will not have enough hours in the day to compete with other developers and hold down a clinical job. This is because software development has no regulation, anyone can do it. The internet has done away with boundaries and very little start up cost. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection with enough intelligence and drive can learn coding and end up being a competitor. Within minutes you can be outsmarted by a kid in his bedroom on the other side of the world if his code is better than yours. This is why tech progresses at such a quick rate. In contrast to be a doctor or a nurse you have to go to higher education, you generally have to have some money to do this. Once you graduate you apply for jobs that only a specific area of the population with similar qualifications are able to apply for. Once you are in a particular field the number of people who can contribute to your field is limited due to access to data and number of people qualified.

I’m not suggesting we cut regulation just to speed up progress in medicine. Having a go at writing code has very different ramifications to having a go at operating on a patient. Slashing regulation would definitely speed up medical development but the trade off of ruining many innocent lives would not be a worthwhile in my opinion. Considering this you may think the previous paragraph is just rambling but the contrast plays an important role in the conclusion so keep it in mind. Going back to Zuckerberg he taught himself C++ before even going to college. C++ is a low-level language (not familiar with low/high-level languages? visit : [levels of code]). He dropped out of Harvard because he was spending all his time developing Facebook. He is famous but there are loads of very smart people graduating from top universities dedicating all their time to developing. I developed a simple app. I am now tinkering with API code so my new app and interact with the electronic computer system in my hospital. This is taking tons of work, I’m lucky that I work part-time and have a gap before I start my postgrad in physics and engineering in medicine otherwise I would never be able to get my head around it. I am still very amateur compared to full time developers and I would be deluded if I thought I could compete with them.

Then why should I bother learning to code? Maxwell why are you bothering if you’re going to be a second rate developer? This is where the negativity stops and the encouragement begins. Having a realistic grasp of your skills and place in the world of software developing is essential for you to take full advantage of your unique position. Remember what I said about regulation in healthcare. We know that doctors and nurses audit. They know what’s clinically relevant and we know what needs improving. We know what we want to find out and we know what data will help us make better decisions. We work with patients and know what they need to know and what they want to know. Combining this with a high level coding language and a goal gives you a lot of power by narrowing your competition. The amount of competing doctors and nurses compared to programmers is limited. It gets even more limited when you are competing against doctors and nurses who can code. You can use it to quickly take charge of data and make better decisions. You don’t have to stop with just one combination. I combine my clinical experience with my coding skills and my mathematical modelling from physics to apply machine learning to clinical data narrowing the competition even more. There is a trade off though. Many people in front line healthcare are confused when it comes to machine learning and mathematical modelling. If you want to read more visit: [machine learning].
So if you decide to pick up coding don’t just learn code. Start with a specific goal related to your field. Auditing an outcome is a nice simple place to start. You will still be doing what other doctors and nurses do but you’ll have this superpower. You will be able to do audits on 100,000s of patients. You will be able to do in a couple of minutes what teams of doctors will do in weeks.   

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