Think You're Professional?

April 1, 2005

How to create a professional image

As physicians, we place a lot of value on the tangible results we produce -- the gallbladder removed, the baby delivered, the hypertension controlled. On the other hand, some of us may tend to discount the work of our nonphysician business colleagues --"suits," mere administrators, occupied in endless meetings, mired in paperwork. What, we wonder, ever comes of that?

To solidify your role as a leader in your practice, and to make your ideas a vital component of the bigger healthcare picture, a new way of looking at the business side of things may be in order. You need to consider business activities -- and medicine is a business as well as a calling -- as a springboard for launching new products and services, keeping departments running well, and promoting the aspirations of your staff and fellow physicians.

Taking an idea and making it tangible is what businesspeople do. It's how we came to have the medical devices and processes that make our lives easier every day, from electronic medical records to billing systems to our answering service. It's how we go about putting great improvements into our practices, like telephone triage systems and staff cross-training and having each of our exam rooms set up exactly the same way.

With that said, you have to realize that sometimes we physicians come off as less-than-polished professionals. Don't assume that having an "MD" or "DO" or "PhD" after your name equals de facto professionalism. Nor should you assume that you need an MBA to be taken seriously.

It all starts with the basic courtesies and demeanor of an executive who can be trusted with an organization's business, money, customers, and project teams. If this is who you want to be, check yourself against these essential do's and don'ts.

DO:

  • Keep meetings and appointments
  • Arrive at meetings on time or early
  • Listen before speaking
  • Return phone calls within eight hours; reply to e-mail within 24 hours
  • Be prepared by reviewing materials before a meeting
  • Be brief and to the point when expressing your views
  • Smile and be pleasant in conversation
  • Say "thank you" and send thank-you notes, either handwritten or by e-mail
  • Use proper table etiquette when eating  
  • Dress in a neat, well-fitting business casual style (if that's your practice culture) or business suit (underneath your white lab coat).

DON'T:

  • Smoke in the presence of others or before a meeting
  • Use foul language
  • Make sexist or racist remarks
  • Gossip or share confidential information
  • Tell crude jokes, even if a colleague does
  • Drink to the point of inebriation at business social events
  • Express your views in a way that embarrasses another person
  • Talk or act rudely to assistants, secretaries, receptionists, or clerks
  • Wear heavy perfume or cologne during business meetings or events
  • Answer or talk on your cell phone just before or during a meeting, unless you are on call and expecting to be called (otherwise just turn it off). 

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE, president of The Gaillour Group, is a professional facilitator and executive coaching resource for physicians who want to develop their potential as leaders, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Her transition into business management came after 10 years of practicing in internal medicine. She can be reached at francine@physicianleadership.com, (888)562-7289, www.physicianleadership.com, or at editor@physicianspractice.com. 

This article originally appeared inthe April 2005 issue of Physicians Practice.