Health care professionals must cultivate a variety of personal and professional skills. Medical knowledge, sound judgment, patient communication skills, and professionalism with coworkers are not optional for licensed health care professionals. It is embarrassingly apparent when we fall short on any of these requirements and there is no shortage of critics who are quick to condemn. Here is a recent story about how interns lack good communication skills.
Even when no harm was caused, healthcare professionals may remain unforgivingly labeled by their shortcomings for years. Many health care providers feel the intensity of increasing demands for perfection from patients, hospitals, payers and regulators and become burned out.
Healthcare providers have to walk a straight line when interacting with others, and as the articles above demonstrate, they face fierce criticism from other doctors, from patients, from the public, and especially from themselves when they are not perfect at all times. It is noteworthy that most students who chose health professions do so because they want to blend scientific knowledge with an atmosphere that encompasses working with other people. But working with other people can be tricky. Sometimes we are not culturally aware, we are tired, we are out to prove that we are right, and sometimes, we are simply caught off guard by an unexpected social/professional curveball that comes our way.
This can leave health care professionals feeling as if they failed when they don't achieve perfection. It is important for providers in the medical world to recognize that it takes years to hone professionalism. It is the rare doctor, pharmacist or nurse who can honestly claim to have been as adept at professionalism early in their career as later. Many times health care providers compete with each other, not realizing that you don’t have to push someone else down in order to lift yourself up. Competitiveness, frazzled demeanor, fear and uncertainty are not only common, but astonishingly, almost never something anyone ever admits to having done personally, but something everyone has seen ‘other people’ do.
The key to improving at anything is to acknowledge that mistakes are the building blocks for future improvement. One cannot go back in time and correct an embarrassing faux pas, say thank you to a helpful and under appreciated staff member who we don’t even remember, delete an unfairly and possible harmful critical remark about a coworker, or erase a regrettable interaction with a dishonest coworker or patient. Becoming skilled at social communication in the workplace is an important goal for professionals in any field. Exchanges within the medical field can result in magnified feelings due to the inherent fear associated with issues of health. The good news is, that over time, social and communication skills in the workplace follow a path of improvement, not decline. It is worthwhile to reflect on an error in judgment from the past and, rather than wallowing in regret, congratulate yourself for cultivating improved professionalism.
About the Author
Heidi Moawad, MD is author of Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, a resource for health care professionals who are looking for career alternatives.
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