Below are the episode show notes and transcript. Some episode transcripts have been edited more than others, but they are up in the meantime to help those who would rather read and for searchability on the web. Extensive editing has not been prioritized as I seek to both produce regular content and maintain my own wellness. Enjoy!
As a physician, you can’t take great care of patients all on your own. Medicine involves TEAMS!
In this episode, we will explore how knowing your staff and building into them can strengthen your clinical team and help your wellness as well.
It’s easier than you think to build into your team and be a great leader. Come check out today’s episode!
Today’s Sponsor: White Coat Investor courses – looking for a course with lectures and CME around financial literacy and wellness. Check out a course today. Click Here
Room 12 is ready for discharge. Could you give me a hand turning this patient? Room 60 could use another dose of their pain medicine. Could you fax this paperwork? Please call me when they get back from the operating room.
Does this sound like your typical day as a physician? I thought so.
Lots of things going on, and only so much time in the day. You have to see the patients, finish your charting, sign the paperwork. Are many of these other requests things you could do yourself? Many of them, yes, but without a team, you can’t provide the same level of care for your patients.
Stick around for today’s episode to learn how investing in your staff can pay dividends for your own professional wellness as a physician.
Welcome to the MedEdWell podcast, where physicians get empowered to take the next step in their wellness, personally, professionally, and financially. I’m your host, Dr. Ryan Stegink, a practicing general pediatrician and online entrepreneur.
Welcome back to this, the eleventh, episode of the MedEdWell Podcast. I am so thankful for you tuning in, engaging with the content and seeking to advance your own wellness. If you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, please do so and share with a colleague. Please also send me a DM on Instagram @MedEdWell if you have feedback or ideas for topics you would like to hear about in the future.
So today, we will be talking about how we, as physicians, interact with those around us. In today’s environment, medicine is definitely a team sport, more and more all the time. The amount of complexity continues to increase, whether billing, productivity pressures, paperwork, prior authorization, or any number of other things. And yet, in the midst of trying to doing more with the same or less resources, there is only so much that personal or even system automation and efficiency can do.
It ultimately comes down to people, not just you and your colleagues, but also and especially your staff.
Before we get into the rest of today’s episode with the three things you need to focus on to build into your staff, let’s hear from today’s sponsor.
Getting a financial education seems daunting until you realize that you did way harder things in medical training. The White Coat Investor has been promoting financial literacy for doctors since 2011 and has great courses to help you make a financial plan, evaluate financial advice, and pursue your wellness. CME is included on some of the courses, making them a perfect fit for those unused professional funds. I have personally taken the Fire Your Financial Advisor course and found it super valuable in my own financial education. I encourage you to visit the link in the show notes and consider signing up for a White Coat Investor course today.
So in talking about staff or others on your clinical team. People like the nurses, medical assistants, patient care techs, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and many others. You need people doing many of the daily tasks that make patient care work, and these interactions that need a real person providing the input and care to get the job done. And yet, people are not machines. We are not capable of endless improvements, overtime shifts, paperwork. There are limits. But the care must continue. And an effective team requires that everyone on that team has the requisite skills and support to do their jobs well. Sure a system can function when some of these things aren’t in place. However, if you as a physician are using all of your efficiency tools in the medical record and catalyzing change through motivational interviewing, but then you don’t have motivated, supported staff running efficient processes for rooming and discharging your patients, your clinical flow will be slower and your wellness will ultimately suffer as well.
As a caveat, there are certainly human resources and system issues that you may or may not be able to actually influence. If you have your own practice, you are in charge and so it may be more about how much overhead you can support at the current time. For employed docs, it will be advocating with human resources and others in leadership but the influence will be more limited.
Even knowing there are systems issues at play, there are still things you can do as an individual physician to support your staff and help their wellness. This will then help them with their work role and benefit your wellness as you work as a more effective and efficient team, tackling patient care, charting, and paperwork.
So without further adieu, the top three things you need to know to support your staff. First, get to know them. Second, build them up. And third and finally, be approachable.
The first thing, get to know your staff. Ask their name, make a point of really trying to remember it. Honestly, I think this is probably the most important because it honors who they are as a fellow human being. In working for awhile at three different clinics in my system and with staff turnover and masks as a part of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have struggled with this at times, so know that you are not alone in not knowing everyone’s names. But intentionally trying to learn them goes a long way to being able to make them feel valued and part of the team. And these things are not just for helping them feel part of the team. They are also for you as a human being, that connection and being kind to others that can help your own mood and be consistent with the type of person that takes an interest in others and how they are doing which is part of my own personal priorities.
Even just people who work in your building, on the floor you are rotating through, just simply asking, “I don’t think we have met before, what is your name?” Or if you have met them, “I think we’ve met before or “I’m sorry I forgot your name, could you remind me please?” It takes me multiple repetitions over a period of time before I really can put names and faces together, but with effort, it can be done.
So learning their name, but then asking about their family, significant other, about their kids. It’s not saying to be nosy, but for those who are willing to share over time, these things naturally come up in conversation. Before each day in clinic, my medical assistant that day will go over the schedule with me, so that we are on the same page with what each patient needs, what they are coming in for. It helps smooth the workflow and help the patients get good care. So as I am pulling up the medical record, I usually ask how they are doing and see where the conversation goes from there. Other things to ask about include where they are at with training and future goals around their careers. Some of the medical assistants are looking to become nurses, some of the nurses want to get into leadership eventually or become nurse practitioners. It all depends, but that is part of having conversations and getting to know people.
So first, make efforts to get to know your staff. Then, really try to build them up. Again, they are already part of the team, but they need to feel that way. First thing in building them up is thanking them. Not flattery but sometimes just the common courtesy things. They, like you, have difficult jobs, so encouragement can go a long way. Recognize their effort, and thank them directly if they did a good job, either as you are going through your day or afterwards. “Nice job working with that last family!” or “Great work today, thanks for your help!” But be genuine. Don’t make up things just to be nice if it’s not true.
Additionally, figure out how they would most appreciate the recognition. If they really went above and beyond, it could be that you email their manager and give them kudos, I have found both the manager and the staff member really appreciate it. It often helps them get recognition in front of their peers, and it helps the manager who may not have as much direct observation of their work performance on a regular basis. It also helps me feel like I am doing a better job of giving specific feedback because when the manager sends out annual staff evaluations, I find it difficult to remember specific instances where things went especially well, particularly when by and large, I have great staff, and they often rotate in which doctors they are assigned to.
So thank them, but, in addition to thanking them, be gracious. Especially when you come with a new request. So this is where knowing names is really important if you are on that unit consistently. It helps you make a request in a more personal way. But be gracious with new requests, particularly if it is number one, a bunch of work. Number two if it deviates from what you previously told them, or number three, interrupts what they are currently doing. There are always more things to be doing for all of us in medicine. Paperwork, charting, etcetera, etcetera. Sure there are bigger questions of whether all of the paperwork is necessary or are there things we could automate or make simpler. But I digress. Acknowledging when you are making a big ask, especially if it means stopping something else that may be similarly significant is important. The other thing is that giving conflicting input can be confusing or just increasing the likelihood of some sort of medical error. I will often sign my orders in the patient exam room when I think they are complete, especially if there is blood work or immunizations, even if I am wrapping up the physical exam or some counseling. I plan to be out of the room by the time the staff is ready to come in, and it helps the transition. But then a new symptom or diagnosis in the family history comes out, and I add on a lab. I often try to go find the medical assistant or nurse because otherwise, they may have started preparing the patient for checkout and wouldn’t otherwise know about what additional changes were made.
So building up staff includes thanking them, checking in with updates, but then also managing up. “We have a great team taking care of you.” When they ask “who is giving the immunizations?” I respond “You would definitely want the nurses or medical assistants doing that because they give immunizations all the time and that’s not what I do typically” “I’m working with so and so today, so if you need anything, please ask to see them while you are waiting” These type of things help the patients see how your clinical team is THEIR MEDICAL TEAM, taking care of them.
You want to set your staff up for success. So as I end my patient visits, it often goes something like this. “I already placed your orders for today, so if they aren’t in to the room with the shots or paperwork in the next 15 minutes or so, please poke your head out and ask for an update.” It’s about MANAGING EXPECTATIONS, and by saying something like this, it is not being dishonest, rather it is acknowledging, they could be with another patient right now, drawing blood and giving immunizations to siblings next door. They could be in an emergency. Or they could be preparing things right now so that they are coming in shortly after I leave, making the 5 minute wait after I am done seem super quick and leaving the patient more satisfied with their care.
In interacting with staff and others on the clinical team, you want to get to know them, then build them up, and finally and most importantly, be approachable. Being humble and interruptible. “Dr. Stegink, can I run this by you?” “Can you check this shot record for me?” “Does this seem quite right, can we look at this together?” I may be in the middle of getting my charts done; I want to be able to get home for my personal wellness, remember? But being approachable and willing to be interrupted goes a long way to showing others that you value their opinion. Sure, there will be times where you ask them to wait while you finish what you are doing or you let them know you will check in after the next patient, or any number of other things. You have to prioritize and triage requests. But when it’s not an acuity or urgency issue but more of a convenience thing, are you willing to be interrupted? Honestly, for me, when I find myself struggling with this, it is often a pride thing for me, thinking my time and what I am doing is more important that someone else. And for me, this is sometimes more difficult at home than at work. Because I want my staff to learn, to share the nuanced understanding of some of these things, I try to be open to questions. I encourage them, especially when they are new to my clinic, “please speak up and ask questions if you don’t understand something or if you’re not sure why I ordered whatever it is. It may be that I put in the wrong order or just needed to wait a little longer.” Admitting “I could be wrong” and encouraging feedback has allowed me to avoid some errors, and these type of collaborative communication skills are also encouraged for code situations where closed loop communication and sharing of ideas is really important.
Your wellness as a physician is not just dependent on your own performance, how you are doing things, but it is also affected by your team. We will cover the value of great colleagues and being one yourself in a subsequent episode. But the team of staff members, nurses, medical assistants, techs, therapists, environmental services staff, and others. They all make a big difference in how you are able to effectively get your work done and care for patients.
So my challenge to you today is to reflect on where you are and one change you want to make today.
Are you going to make a more concerted effort to learn names of your staff? Yes, names and faces are more difficult with everyone wearing masks, but it can still be done. Do you know names but need to be more intentional in building up your staff, thanking them, talking them up to your patients? Or do you need to tell your team, please come find me if you have questions?
How could things change if you tried some of these things with your staff? Yes, your staff probably would come and find you anyways if they thought you really needed to know, but there are some things that might have been missed or delayed because they thought, “I don’t want to call Dr. Stegink unless it’s really bad, he’s too grumpy on the phone.” Rather, by being approachable, they call you sooner, maybe you walk them through some of the things to look for, and they feel more empowered to take good care of their patients and develop better clinical reasoning skills as a result. That unit you know is full of complaining and gossiping? Maybe you learning names and being thankful sparks more gratitude and changes the work environment so there is less turnover and more camaraderie on the team. You know all those productivity things you have been trying to implement? They don’t work very well if your patients aren’t roomed, things arent done, patients arent discharged. You cant take good care of patients and you cant be efficient without a good team around you. So even though doing these things for the right reasons is super important (priorities, character, leadership, professionalism, and all that), even if it is just self interest in getting things done so you can head home, you are better off for doing them.
In case you didn’t hear it earlier, I don’t do all these things perfectly either. It’s about growth. I ran these things by a few staff that I work with, and they confirmed these are good things for physicians to consider as part of the medical team.
You deserve the best team that you are able to get, and influence is a huge part of leadership, so as far as it depends on you, get to know your team, build them up, and be approachable.
Thanks for joining me here on another episode of The MedEdWell Podcast. Check out the White Coat Investor courses at the link in your show notes as you consider how to use your CME funds to invest in your own wellness. The MedEdWell Podcast seeks to advance your wellness as a physician personally, professionally, and financially, and if this content has been valuable to you, please subscribe, leave a review, and share with a friend or colleague. You can also find me on Instagram @MedEdWell, please feel free to tag me or send me a DM. Until next time, thanks for all you do and take care!