It is complicated

I recently finished reading the novel, Complications, A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. It was one of those books that I sometimes had a hard time staying physically seated to read because I had such strong reactions to what the author had to say. My spiked reactions were centered on how frequently the author described what I have felt in my own career, albeit we are in slightly different professions. The book is divided into three parts: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Perhaps you can already see the correlations I was making.

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The other reaction that I had is not directly related to the book but instead is a larger question I’ve been walking around with for some months now: how can software testers who test products such as medical devices get to know medical practitioners?

I have a vision of building a partnership between medical practitioners and software testers. I am uncomfortable with the thought of testing medical devices used by a group of practitioners that I’ve never met. It frustrates me deeply that I’m not able to bridge that gap. How fantastic it would be to build an association where medical practitioners and software testers could exchange ideas. I don’t mean the high-level executives from either communities, I’m sure there are sales and purchasing associates at both ends of our fields that talk and go out to occasional fabulous lunches.

I would like to create a bridge between the people who use the devices and those of us who are software testers located in office buildings far away from the real life situations where medical devices are actually used. It seems to me, we should know each other.

But with a deep sigh, I don’t at this time know how to build that association. And I don’t know if there are other people in either profession who would also believe that this could be a valuable association. I have made some attempts in recent time to investigate the possibility but nothing has come of it, yet.

In the meanwhile I’m intrigued to read passages from a surgeon who has clearly acquired years of real life experience describing his journey and to feel correlations to my own work and my thoughts and feelings towards my work. Despite years of sustained practice and training, the author mentions the doubts that creep in. The time constraints, the ethical dilemmas and the fact that sometimes despite years of training and field work, situations occur in ways where the path to proceed and the decisions to make are not clear. It sometimes takes judgment to proceed.

I think this book could be a good read for beginning software testers to recognize that some skills take years of sustained focused engaged practice. And that it is unrealistic to think that reading one book or passing one certification exam of any flavor can replace years of apprenticeship. And that even after years of practice, we still must use our own judgment and common sense mixed with what has become intuition to make decisions.

So I imagine people might think drawing correlations between software testing and surgery might be rather extreme. But is it really? When I think about the testing I’ve done with medical devices and recognize that should a device introduce an error, patient death is a possibility – all my work does is move me further down the hall from the outcome.

It saddens and frustrates me that in our world, we esteem medical practitioners to a god-like status but that too frequently I see software testing deemed by some as such a lowly occupation that they seek across the globe to find the cheapest possible resources to pawn software testing off to. Can you imagine price-shopping a surgery in the same fashion? After all if a medical device is tested poorly, the most brilliant and skilled surgeon could press a button on a device only to end up in dire consequences potentially due to poor software testing. Given that possible outcome, we should esteem software testing in its rightful place as an acquired intelligent skilled profession. And that we should pay people accordingly regardless of their location as long as the skills used and provided equate to these higher expectations.

When it comes to testing a medical device, I don’t see myself as any less responsible or removed from the outcome just because I might not be as physically close as an attending physician. Shouldn’t there be doctors and medical practitioners thrilled and relieved to know that some of us who test medical devices care that deeply. And that some of us, would like to meet?

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