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Keeping the Noise Down at Your Medical Practice


Having trouble keeping the noise down at your medical practice to reduce distractions? The Civility CEO has some advice for you.

Dear Sue,

One of my employees, whom I really appreciate and enjoy working with, has had new tattooing which covers most of her arms and reaches to her fingers. I am uncomfortable with this as a representation of my practice. What do you think? What can I say?

Irked Internist

Dear Irked Internist,

If only everyone would inquire about whether ink is in sync with their employer's policies before getting themselves permanently decorated. However, this tactic only works if a practice actually has detailed written policies. Many do not.

This is a sensitive situation because you're standing squarely on the spot where human rights meet corporate conventions. It's also the intersection of contemporary and traditional values. While body art is a mainstream way for people to express their character, the optics of one's individuality doesn't always harmonize with the brand of the company they represent, particularly when that company is a patient-centric medical practice.

Keeping in mind that the ink is indelible, you need to ask yourself about the permanence of your professional relationship with your tattooed employee. Several questions must be considered:

What policies were in place prior to the person revealing her tattoos?

If there were no clear appearance or dress guidelines established when your employee had her arms inked, you may not have a leg to stand on.

What kind of precedent do you want to set?

Tackling this transgression will lead to bigger questions about your position on other visual enhancements. Are small tattoos acceptable? Nose rings? Flashy nail or hair colors? Once you deal with one issue you need to be prepared to deal with them all.

What options are there to mask the tattoos?

It's fair for you to ask your employee to cover her ink while she's at work. Because this is such a common request there are a variety of cosmetic camouflage products and tattoo sleeves available on the market. Even wearing a blazer, sweater, or lab coat can work to conceal her body art.

How valuable is your embellished employee to the success of your practice?

Appearance aside for a moment, is visible body art a deal-breaker for you? If you answer yes, then you need to be willing to let your worker go, no matter how much you enjoy working with her. In order to do that, you'll have to research the potential legal risks of your action.

The position you're in is a perfect example of why a detailed written workplace policy is a necessity. Not only does it declare your expectations, but clear guidelines also provide the means for you to objectively deal with infractions. Having a document to refer to when a breach occurs empowers you to focus on fact, not feeling, thus enabling you to make a non-judgmental statement like, "I need to review our appearance policy with you. As you can see, it very clearly states that visible body art is prohibited at our practice. I'd like to work with you to find a solution. You will have to either cover your tattoos while you're at work or have no direct patient interaction. Which option do you prefer?" I hope this helps fade your concerns.

Dear Sue,

The noise level at our practice seems to increase every day. Distractions like ringing phones, buzzing mobile devices, and constant chatter make it challenging for me to focus on staying calm while treating patients. How can we tone things down?

Seeking Serenity

Dear Seeking Serenity,

To paraphrase an old adage, "One man's noise is another man's music." While sound is a natural byproduct of our exceedingly connected society, it is also an annoyance when left uncontrolled. Here are five suggestions to help you dull the roar:

1. Have a look around.

There's a good chance that the layout of your office is not conducive to a quiet atmosphere, especially in your waiting area. To remedy this you may want to rearrange the furniture to create a more private enclave. Something as simple as repositioning the chairs in your waiting room can cause a shift in the way people communicate.

2. Consider adding a glass partition.

The reception desk is the heart of your practice because it's where most of the activity occurs. Erecting even a partial glass panel can lower the noise level considerably. It will also enhance the privacy of your practice. A lot of sensitive calls and conversations are held there, and patients will appreciate your efforts to maximize security.

3. Post signage.

It's unrealistic to expect people to turn their cell phones or tablets off anymore, unless, of course, you have sensitive medical equipment in-house. Instead, post signage on the walls respectfully asking people to set their notifications to silent mode and avoid telephone discussions in the waiting area.

4. Turn on some tunes.

Streaming pleasing music can provide just enough background noise and diversion to keep people occupied, even when the volume is low. Select middle-of-the-road melodies or acoustic varieties that are easy to listen to.

5. Ask people to keep it down.

Staff and patients sometimes need a reminder that excessive noise is unwelcome. Chances are if the noise is bothering you, it's also bothering others. Work with your team and your patients to create a calm atmosphere by asking them to converse quietly.

Implementing even one or two of these suggestions should help scale down the volume within the walls of your practice.

Sue Jacques, The Civility CEO®, is a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, keynote speaker, and author. Sue helps people and practices gain confidence, earn respect, and prosper through professionalism by creating courteous and confident corporate cultures. She can be reached at

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