In defense of the old school mixing with the new health care – A must read for all
I would like to think that most of what I write in these pages is of use to my very select reader list. I only link in people that I have worked with. I write these words with you in mind. Today is certainly no exception. If, however, you are looking at your watch wondering if you have the time to read this, please give yourself the three to five minutes it will take to go through this.
I just arrived back at my office from an amazing coaching session. One of those that I walked away from thinking how fortunate I am to work with this class of professionals. I have worked with this surgeon for several months. He is completely dedicated to his craft and profession. He could have retired years ago, both by measures of success and age. His staff, colleagues, and patients love him. He has had the same receptionist for three decades. He gives his cell phone number to patients. And the list goes on. When he talks about his patients, it is obvious that nothing is more important to him than their well-being.
He has a solid understanding of the complete picture of medicine, something that can be rare with the specialty niche of surgery in which he practices. Though this might sound a bit overboard, he truly, still, finds joy in the practice of medicine.
Now, lest you think this is someone that has a pretty picture of the world and is a bit out of touch, let me state that he is a pragmatist’s pragmatist. He has seen it all. Decades of work in hospitals, clinics, and war zones as a military physician. It is his pragmatic base that has allowed him to stay with the old while embracing the new.
What is some of the ‘old’ that is still in place for this physician?
1. Enjoying helping on a team. Not being the ‘top dog’ but one of the members of an elite surgical team. Leaving every OR setting knowing he has pulled his weight.
2. Paying fanatical attention to small details. Knowing that having all the details done and the loops closed allow his surgical patients to spend less time under anesthesia and have less risk of infection.
3. Anticipating the next step. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “skating to where the puck is going to be”.
4. Expecting high performance from all on the team.
5. And, perhaps most importantly, taking complete responsibility for his actions. You might be able to call it ‘the mirror test’. Sounds a bit sappy, perhaps. However, for physician and healthcare leadership, it is foundational. President Harry Truman, famous for his Missouri bluntness, said it best with the phrase, “the buck stops here”. No excuse leadership and character.
Before going to the next part, I would ask all of you, from system CEO to front line nurse, who read these words, to do the mirror test on the previous items. Not as you see yourself, but as those around you see. These aspects of behavior are not optional or negotiable. They have to exist in your repertoire of leadership characteristics.
How is this ‘old school’ physician merging with the ‘new healthcare’ environment?
He spoke about learning to play by the rules of the house. If you are going to be a guest in the house, you need to play by the rules. One hospital is probably not going to be better than the next. Now I don’t want you to think this person has ‘drunk the kool-aid’ and has just given up and left his voice behind. Not in the least!
What he has done is realize that the voice he was raised with in the medical world was not being effective. The command and control approach that many physicians were trained with and that worked for decades has changed forever. Something to despair about? Not at all
Learning to communicate is a more connecting and supportive way may sound trite and overdone to some. To this doctor? “It has made me a better doctor. It is better for my patients. By controlling the ‘guy in the mirror’, I have a lot more success”. His brilliance in medicine is enhanced by respecting those around him and allowing their voices to be part of his patient’s treatment. Doesn’t sound complicated, but is difficult to do.
He related the story of a scrub nurse who was having a tough time in a surgery a couple of weeks ago, but was doing a credible job in spite of some challenges. He made a point of thanking this nurse directly. The next time they operated together, the nurses’ approach was completely different – more engaged, more focused, better follow through. Cause and effect due to the ‘thank you’? Cannot say for sure, but worth pursuing.
I wish you could meet this physician. A rare mix of the values that once placed medicine and physicians in the most respected of pedestals combined with a forward-thinking approach to what works with people. Using the native brilliance to learn a new language that allows his talents with treatment and people to reach further than it ever has.
The assignment for these next few weeks? The mirror test. Could you put your name in this story and feel that it was honestly you? A high bar perhaps…but do your patients deserve any less than the best your talents can produce?