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When I demonstrate that I care about the people I work with, they work harder for my patients.
Professionally, I believe I'm most proud of the relationships I've formed with patients. A close second on that list are the relationships I've formed with nursing staff, physical/occupational/speech therapists, administrative assistants, and cafeteria and housekeeping staff at my various workplaces.
My efforts at establishing these working friendships are not wholly selfish. I've noticed that when I demonstrate that I care about the people I work with, they work harder for my patients. That being said, all physicians have a role of authority in the clinic and hospital, so it is important that I keep my working "friendships" professional. For example, I probably would not feel comfortable going out for a drink with the clinic staff. On the other hand, sharing lunch and laughter in the break room at noon goes a long way to show my coworkers that I'm a real person.
Here are eight pearls for establishing relationships with your staff that may pay off in improved patient care:
1. Freely dole out compliments. Humans love to hear what they are doing well, whether it is work-related or not. If the referral scheduler gets your patient in to see a specialist next week when this specialist is known for a six-week wait time, send him a "thank you" e-mail and copy the clinic manager. Similarly, if you notice that your clinic receptionist has a new hairstyle, say something.
2. Know something about your coworkers' personal lives. Asking your nurse how her son's soccer team is doing or asking your clinic manager how he is coping with his wife's long business trip goes a long way to paint you as someone who cares not just about your patients but about your team, as well.
3. Keep notes if your memory stinks. On my iPhone, I keep a list of basic notes to myself about things I might want to remember someday. For example, when a new person starts work in our clinic, I might note his job and name and something about his life outside work that I learned when he introduced himself. By the time I review this a few times, I know it and can erase the note (before anyone I work with finds it!).
4. Praise in public, correct in private. As a physician, you are in a position of power in the office. Praising someone's good action or decision making in public tells your team that you are aware of and appreciate their efforts. When you need to correct a team member, on the other hand, you should choose a private place to have that conversation.
5. Address issues right away. When a coworker does or says something that needs to be addressed, do it that day. Waiting until tomorrow or next week suggests to the person that it isn't important. You may forget to address the issue if you wait, and you have better knowledge of the incident if it is discussed sooner rather than later.
6. Remember the feedback sandwich when correcting mistakes. Give it like you would order it for yourself … a healthy slice of compliment on each side of the meaty filling, a well worded constructive criticism.
7. Participate in clinic or hospital culture. Bringing home-baked cookies to a holiday cookie exchange or putting a $5 bill in the coffee fund collection shows your coworkers that you are a real person who also happens to be a physician on the team.
8. Resist the urge to gossip. We all know that discussing a patient with someone who doesn't have a need-to-know is a HIPAA violation, but gossip about coworkers or other professionals is still legal. Physicians, however, should never participate in spreading rumors. To do so would send a message to the staff that gossip is appropriate. Your best bet is to politely excuse yourself when the gossip starts.
I'm sure that if you institute just a few of these tips in your daily interactions with your staff, you will see the payback within a few weeks. After all, most of us spend more time with our coworkers that with our families. We should work to make our work relationships good ones.
Sarah Parrott, DO, is an assistant professor of family medicine and division coordinator for communications at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.