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Drawing the Line Between Physician Boss and Friend


Sometimes, it is difficult to draw the line between boss and friend at a practice, especially when your staff fall on hard times in their personal lives.

If you have read any of my previous posts about my staff, you know that I truly value them. I have been blessed to have pleasant, hard-working, enthusiastic young women working for me. Sure, they have their bad days. They get impatient with patients who leave five-minute messages on the machine, they get annoyed at the person who calls six times in a 30-minute period (we know, we have caller ID) without leaving a message, and they get frustrated with the pre-certs and prior authorization. But most days, they are courteous to patients and extremely helpful to me. My patients tell me they appreciate how pleasant my staff is and how efficient they are.

I have two administrative assistants and one medical assistant. I have met my one secretary’s parents and the father of my medical assistant. I have taken all three to lunch for administrative assistants’ day, we all went to dinner before Christmas week last year, and I invited them all to my house for a July 4th barbecue. I have met one secretary’s boyfriend, and because we have a small office, I have heard all the stories about family and friends.

All this makes it difficult for me to draw the line between boss and friend. I understand that we’re not buddies. I don’t hang out with them after work. I don’t call them to chit-chat. But recently things, unfortunate things, have been going on, and I’m not sure how I am to respond to them.

My one staff member needed surgery this week. Apart from giving her the time off and wishing her well before she left, and asking her how she feels when she gets back, is there anything I am supposed to do? Not do? Would it have been inappropriate for me to ask about details about her condition or the surgery she was having? Or is it impersonal for me not to ask? When she gets back, am I prying if I ask her about her hospital stay, or is it uncaring if I don’t?

Another staff member had a recent death in her family. Apart from the standard, “I’m so sorry,” was I supposed to say or do something else? If she were a friend, I would have gone to the viewing and maybe the funeral. I would have sent flowers. But, it wasn’t immediate family, I didn’t know her family. Would it have seemed odd if I had shown up?

And now a staff member’s parent has been diagnosed with cancer. This is obviously a hard time for her. And I am at a loss. How much do I ask her to share? About the medical details, about how her mom is handling it, about how is she is handling it? If she were a friend, I would put my arms around her, tell her that her mom will be OK, and tell her that I am here for her. But as her boss, is that too personal?

And then there is the whole business part of it: time off for funerals, surgery, and family. Technically, this is all part of their personal time off. My husband/biller reminds me that business is business and that I have to either count it as PTO or as non-paid time off. But it feels so cold. One of them already has planned time off in the fall for a friend’s wedding, and I hate to tell her that she’s going to run out of paid time off because she used it to go to a funeral. Arg. Maybe, I’m too soft for this.

For more on Melissa Young and our other Practice Notes bloggers, click here.

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