Avoid Perceptions of Inappropriate Behavior at Your Medical Practice

July 19, 2013
Robert Thomson

As a physician or administrator, you should be close to your staff, but also maintain professional standards.

The issue of how physicians and supervisors interact with their medical practice staff is an important one that affects daily operations.

It is very important for physicians and practice administrators to maintain a professional and not overly comfortable relationship with their staff. It is very often the case, I am afraid, where employees misinterpret friendliness when dealing with their bosses. They may mistake friendly conversations with a desire for a more serious relationship. Employees may see a doctor who likes to teach or talk with one employee as being favoritism and feel somewhat rejected. Hard feelings and jealousy may develop.

Notice, I did not specify the sex of the doctor or the employees because it really can affect both sexes. I once worked at a place where the staff and surgeons shared the same lounge/break room. We were all sort of a big family. At times, a female surgeon who I knew very well and worked with on a daily basis would sit next to me on a sofa in that break room so we could talk together. Believe me she had no interest in me. The problem was the doctor made it a habit of sitting very close to me and it was perceived, by some, to be inappropriate behavior. They complained and the sofa disappeared. We got a lounge full of cold individual chairs without cushions, positioned around individual tables. Also, a consultant was brought in to give a talk on sexual harassment to the staff.

Although both the furniture and consultant probably cost a pretty penny, I think the administration considered it a bargain when compared to a lawsuit. I mention this only to point out how perceptions can be very, very mistaken. And can be very expensive. The terms sexual harassment and hostile environment come to mind. What other people perceive when they see you talking to the same person all the time can cost you.

Employees do seek out the attention of their physicians, as you all very well know, and will use that attention to their advantage when dealing with others. Other people may feel they cannot voice their opinions or disagree with that person because they are the doctor's favorite. So please keep things on a completely neutral, professional basis and treat all your employees the same. Everyone enjoys a friendly work environment but just try and keep your actions in check.

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind:

• Be friendly but not too friendly.

• When talking with your staff, try to stick to business issues. You can use this time to take the pulse of your practice and ask if there are any problems. If there are problems, ask your staff for their thoughts on how to fix them.

• Treat all employees the same.

• Don’t spend more time with one employee than the others.

• Try to maintain a strictly professional demeanor when interacting with your staff.

• Never talk with a staff member alone in a closed room.

Everyone wants to work at a place where everyone is friendly. And having a little fun doesn’t hurt moral. But for the reasons I stated previously, try to keep your behavior in check and professional so there are no misunderstandings.

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