“Why bother joining Toastmasters?”
“You are a doctor. You should be already rich!’.
“Doc, this is where you belong! You did so well with the moderation. I think you should do more of this.”

Before I come back to the above comments, let me confess that I once quoted George Bernard Shaw to a patient during a ward round. It was a complete disaster! After rattling out the Irish playwright’s immortal words about how the “single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken pace”, I only managed to fail to communicate.

“Ati kii”, the man (speaking in his vernacular) wondered what I had just said.

I summoned some Swahili apologies in mitigation as I was jolted back to normalcy. I had just finished my ‘Understanding your Communication Style’ Project under Presentation Mastery Path, Level 2, the previous week. Yet I had just made a fool of myself. Maybe this should go to address the first comment, – Why bother
joining Toastmasters – made by a new member during our 2018 end year Club party. I did not even attempt to answer. At the moment I thought the only answer would have been, ‘I am not here to make money’.
(Though I still charge fellow Toastmasters a doctor’s consultation fee when they come to see me).

A picture of doctors in the OR

What does a surgeon need in Toastmasters? This is a question I have been asked innumerable times. At the turn of the century, American health experts argue that a lot of people died of medical errors. Majority of these errors stemmed from breakdown in communication. Communication, leadership in the operating room (OR), team work among others, are termed as non-technical skills for the surgeon. Non-technical skills for the surgeon are critical to the practice of safe surgery. How many know of an organization that trains people to be better communicators and leaders?

Toastmasters International does exactly that! Every Surgeon needs to join Toastmasters! Here is the truth, the only person who knows the greatness of a surgeon is another surgeon. As for all our patients, the surgeon is as great as they appear to you or make you feel. Our patients label us as good surgeons when we can reassure them that everything is going to be okay. You don’t really care what exactly we do when you are under anesthesia, do you? Well, it is gross and technical, so I wouldn’t care if I were you. We all know that surgeons will leave us in stitches literally, and therefore maybe we are fond of those who leave us in stitches figuratively as well.

In Toastmasters, I learn to be a good surgeon to my patients, as I leave them in stiches. I am using the
communication skills learnt in my Toastmaster’s experience as I communicate with my patients, as I
consult with my fellow surgeons, as I lead and delegate to my team.
I have experience in Vigorously Pushing Everyone (VPE) especially with the patients (sorry… members) of
my Club at Kilele… to take up roles, to work with mentors, to participate in contests, to desist from
dropping roles at the last moment! (why? Oh why do you do this? VPE’s need stress insurance!)

I vigorously push my Club members towards activities that would bring healing to their communication
illnesses, and I transfer this experience to my practice too, as I try to bring healing to my patients. Well, that
answers the question by my new club member, about what a surgeon is doing in Toastmasters.
It also addresses the second comment made by a senior colleague over coffee, as he commended me, when I had moderated a panel discussion on ‘Positioning Surgery at the Core of Universal Health Coverage’ for my Pathways Level 5 Project. Well, that answers the question by my new club member, about what a surgeon is doing in Toastmasters. It also addresses the second comment made by a senior colleague over coffee, as he commended me, when I had moderated a panel discussion on ‘Positioning Surgery at the Core of Universal HealthCoverage’ for my Pathways Level 5 Project.

Everyone needs communication. Even trees communicate, they grow towards light, away from the ground and send their roots in the direction of water. Communication is such a vital component of life in this universe that we cannot take it for granted Great surgeons should be great communicators to their patients and great leaders in the OR. It goes without saying then that at the confluence of technical skills,
leadership and communication, the life of great surgical practice is born. We surgeons have the technical
skills, we are in Toastmasters to pick the other two skills.

Great surgeons should be great communicators to their patients and great leaders in the OR. It goes without saying then that at the confluence of technical skills, leadership and communication, the life of great surgical practice is born. We surgeons have the technical skills, we are in Toastmasters to pick the other two
skills. (Well, I speak for the future generations since I am yet to meet another surgeon on these corridors).

Dr. Aruyaru is a Toastmaster and medical doctor; a consultant general surgeon, researcher, editor and health advocate working in Consolata Hospital Mathari – Nyeri, Kenya