Leveraging Weakness

December 11, 2008

Knowing your weaknesses means understanding, accepting, and leveraging them so they’ll be an asset to your career rather than a liability.

Being a doctor is tough. Not only do you have to know a lot clinically, you also need to be savvy with the business side of medicine. On top of that, you need to know your weaknesses. That means understanding, accepting, and leveraging them so they’ll be an asset to your career rather than a liability.

For example, no good physician pretends to know something clinical that he doesn’t actually know. Ultimately, my patients feel very reassured when I scratch my head and grab a textbook to find the right answer. Why? Because the more I am willing to admit when I’m baffled, the more they trust me when I do know the answer. Any physician who doesn’t accept this fact of fallibility will become painfully aware of it when he causes harm out of his own weakness.

This same scenario can occur in non-medical areas, too, where arrogance can make a physician plow ahead despite ignorance on a subject, leaving him open to grievous errors. Consider these two areas:

  • Health information technology -- As 14-year veterans of EMR technology, we have learned many lessons the hard way. I have personally crashed our server more times than I wish to admit. We’ve implemented work flows and technologies that proved very disruptive. Many of these mistakes were unavoidable because we were EMR pioneers; there were no experts.

 

But now, many such experts exist, so there is little excuse for physicians’ offices to relive mistakes already made. The task of going paperless is not really all that difficult, but if it fails to live up to expectations, it is condemned as “bad technology.” It isn’t bad technology; it’s just hard to do right without proper planning and training -- steps that tend to get skipped.

 

  • The business side of healthcare -- A doctor’s office is hard to run well, yet help is not often sought in the way it should be. Our practice has developed many innovative yet easy ways to enhance our revenue. My observation is that physicians are generally slow to seek out help, or worse, accept it when it is offered. This is crazy. Why not take advantage of help when you need it? Unfortunately, we’ve had little success in getting other practices to take advantage of our learning curve.

In essence, knowing your weaknesses means letting in some humility -- hard to do, especially for us physicians. We’re trained to be leaders, not followers. Decision-makers, not delegators

 

Don’t waste time trying to overcome your weaknesses. I can certainly attest to my own “big-picture” attitude and my boredom with details. I rely on detail-oriented people to help me succeed. Swallowing my pride to achieve my goals has been key. Frankly, spending too much time on trying to fix what you stink at means you’ll never have time to apply your strengths. Instead, compensate for your lack in a certain area by reaching out for help. Know enough about technology or business to hold others accountable, but let the experts be the experts. Then, you can concentrate on what you love: being a doctor.

Robert Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician with Evans Medical Group in Evans, Ga. He is board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics. He is a recognized national speaker on computerized health records, He also maintains a blog on both clinical and not-so-clinical matters, distractible.org. He can be reached at rlamberts@EvansMedicalGroup.com.