Esther León: simulationist and passionate

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Health sciences, philosophy and psychology: the three professional facets of Esther León.

Head of i+D+i of University of Barcelona’s Clinical Simulation Laboratory. Vice-president and former treasurer of the European Society of Simulation (SESAM). Former president, vice-president and secretary of the Spanish Society of Simulation and Patient Safety (SESSEP). Member of the Editorial Committee of International Journal of Healthcare Simulation. She has also been co-chair of the Affiliation Committee and member of the Strategy Committee of Society of Simulation in Healthcare. Undoubtedly, Esther León plays a key role in the development of simulation across the globe.

We met Esther and we challenged her with 10 +1 questions to get to know her more deeply. And we found out that, as a good millennial, the first thing she does when she wakes up in the morning is to check her phone notifications, and then read the Harvard Business Review. In our last “zine-style” question she revealed something incredible to us.

1. SZ: As a simulationist, what is your morning routine?

My morning starts between 5:00 and 6:00 am. As a good millennial, even before I open my eyes, I grab my phone and go through my notifications. After sending a “good morning”, I dive into my professional profile. I spend the first hour on social networks and reading, always holding an English black tea, strong and without sugar. I love reading scientific articles and I’m a fan of Harvard Business Review too. I only read papers, books for me are a challenge which I’m not able to overcome.

Usually I work from home, unless I have a face-to-face lecture. I go to the faculty more or less once a week, which becomes every day during certain weeks or times of the year.

In general, I do three kinds of jobs: teaching, talking with people (meetings, networking, projects, strategy, problem solving, research), and creating new content, plans, researches, ideas, and projects. If I have to create, I sit at my computer with all applications closed, some music to help me focus and I even turn my phone down to not lose concentration. Sometimes I get so carried away that I forget everything, about time especially. This is why I don’t know when my morning ends. 😉

2. SZ: You studied to be a nurse. Why are you investing your professional career in simulation?

If I think about a few years ago when I first started, I remember having an internal dilemma about whether to study health sciences (medicine or nursing). I was also attracted by the deep reflection about fundamental issues of existence, of being, so my second option was philosophy. Another option that I was considering involved the understanding of thinking processes, mental frameworks and behaviours being the third option psychology.

Computer science and technology were among my main interests [I have always been a “tech-girl”]. Therefore, I started working at the university as an intern, helping to develop the platform Moodle in 2007. One day I saw one of our Master ‘s directors “playing” with a dummy and a computer. I was attending the case as a student. My attraction for that technology was such that I approached him and said “Do you mind me helping you with the dummy, instead of studying the case?” and I started “operating” the dummy. And I have been here since that day (academic year 2008).

The second tipping point was at a basic course for instructors, which changed me forever, both as a person and as a professional. I got to read the report “To err is human” and I felt the moral responsibility to contribute to the enhancement of those data. Moreover, I understood that “critique is a gift”.

Hence, the answer to your question is that in simulation I found the place where all my passions merge. In addition, simulation made me grow as an individual and generated a professional purpose to bring about a change.

3. SZ: Do you consider yourself an innovator?

Yes, and I believe this has come with age and professional maturity. In order to innovate, you need to have a mind open to different ideas, to think broadly and “out of the box”, to step out of the established patterns to solve problems, and all of this is part of my personality per se.

However, thinking about the use I have made of these skills (and this is where maturity plays a major role) I observe that at the beginning of my career these features led me to being quite critical with established rules and having a high level of intellectual rebellion. Over time, I found out that the best way to channel these ideas is by starting from the basis of assuming and respecting the customs and the previous intellectual work on any thematic area. And I understood that the established order of things can be the starting point to generate a new idea or propose improvements.

4. SZ: What are you doing to turn yourself into the person that you want to be?

I find it really hard to begin and hold talks related to my personal sphere. I’m trying to transfer my professional skills to my personal life so that they can help me cope with shame and shyness, thus enabling me to speak and build.

5. SZ: If you look at your career, to which period would you travel back in time and why?

I would go back to the beginning of my career, and I would have a deep conversation with myself to help me understand that, in life, professional and personal development are not at odds. I feel that I should have spent more time on non-professional matters.

6. SZ: Is there anybody who inspires you every day?

Honestly, it’s very hard for me to answer this question. There is no clear answer, and I will explain why. Everyday I’m inspired by many people, close friends and strangers. I love observing what happens around me, and every stimulus is a source of inspiration. What inspires me the most is authenticity, the absence of filters, in English I would say I like anything that is raw.

7. SZ: What was the most traumatic experience of your professional life?

In the past, before I learnt the current basic educational principles, my approach to teaching was punitive, judgemental. I thought that the harder something was, the more learning opportunities it provided, and that failure was due to students’ lack of attention or willingness to learn. Unwittingly and unintentionally, I must have damaged many participants and I didn’t even apply ethical educational principles in sheer ignorance. I think that I had a traumatic moment when I got to this level of awareness about my previous practice.

8. SZ: In your Linkedin profile you describe yourself as skilled in social media. As a researcher, what do you think is the value of a “like”?

In my opinion, a «like» delivers value in two ways.

As a positive feedback on what you are sharing, in that the community evaluates and appreciates your idea. The value in this context is that you get to probe your idea and to gauge whether it needs improvement.

On the other hand, nowadays, on platforms like Twitter or Linkedin a “like” also means that your ideas or outcomes are being shared with your followers’ networks. The value in this case lies within the opportunity to grow exponentially through third parties, and that your idea or outcomes reach more people and more visibility.

9. SZ: If you described Esther León in a tweet, what would you write?

I tend to write in English, so:

“Passionate entity, delighted by beauty and simplicity that I try to capture by my phone-camera. Profound believer in people and the capacity of each individual to transform and build a better world. Simulationist and patient safety advocator.”

She/her, 🏳️‍🌈, I have suffered depression you are no alone (Feel free to write me).**

** On my social profiles, I always wonder whether I should follow my English-speaking colleagues’ trend of including my pronouns, and other matters related to diversity and inclusivity. I have been internally debating for months, balancing pros and cons, so I had to take the plunge at some point.

10. SZ: What do you like most and least about your personality?

I think that what I like the most and least are the same thing. I like my thinking, analytical and metacognitive skills, this is what I appreciate most about myself. However, sometimes I wish that things were easier or involved less thinking. Basically, I don’t have an off button and, at times, I feel “trapped” in my constant reflection. I open my eyes and my analysis pattern turns on. On top of that, I’m always tempted to investigate the mental models behind everything.

10+1. 10+1. SZ: What is the thing that nobody knows? Sorry, this is a zine-style” question. 😉

I’m getting married! May 2023. Paraguay.

SZ: Wow, what a scoop! Thanks a lot for your time, Esther.
Ciao … actually no, hasta luego

Instagram: @estherleonsimulacion

Twitter: @esleonc

YouTube: SIMversando

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