I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on interpersonal communication and how I react to others. Treating patients is about more than medicine. Its about how you treat them.
Interpersonal communication simply means how you’re interacting with others. It can be verbally or just through our body language. And honestly, it is SO, SO important to becoming a provider. You’re being judged on every front during your interaction with your patient, and you need to remember that being a good provider is more than just knowing the medical aspects. I think it’s important that we all start practicing these interpersonal skills from the get go. Sure I get it, we’ve spent our entire lives studying and trying to be the best of the best, and we’re competitive, driven individuals. But we need to remember that we all think differently and process things differently. So when someone has a different idea than you, or seems to struggle in a subject you rock, remember that. And remember that throughout your career you are always going to be learning new things and, in turn, educating your patients – who in all honestly will NOT completely understand medical jargon. You’re going to still need to treat your patients with understanding and compassion, and not look down on them. So when you’re dealing with a classmate or colleague, you need to treat them with that same respect. Its going to make you grow as a provider – which is the WHOLE point of going into medicine, being the best provider you can be. And it’s going to make your time in school run a lot smoother.
How does this have anything to do with interacting with a treatment team? Simple, its the same idea that the different team members are going to have different views of the patient. A PT/OT person may focus more on the functional ability of a person. A social worker is going to look at that person’s interaction with their community. And so on and so forth. But even though every profession has a different viewpoint of the patient and may focus more on one aspect, in the end we are all fighting for one thing – to help our patient. And when providers work together, we’re going to treat our patient much more holistically, which when you ask any patient is probably what they want.
So, I have a couple of challenges for you guys to work on those interpersonal relationships and become the best providers you can be. You can decide to take them or leave them, but I do want you to stop and consider how you interact with your classmates, coworkers, patients, family, etc.
- Take a moment to think before you jump to a conclusion. We all have that impulse to blurt something out and think its correct. And how often do you guys than think about what you just said and want to kick yourself. Also, the more you take that moment to stop and think, the more it will become second nature.
- Learn to apologize. I’m the first person to admit that sometimes I don’t say the right thing and it may come across as rude. But I am always willing to go back and clarify what I meant. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m wrong, but rather that I can understand how it would come across to the other person.
- Encourage questions. If a classmate/colleague asks you to explain something, actually do it. Don’t appear irritated, because patients are going to ask a MILLION questions. It’s excellent practice for the real world, and explaining something is an excellent study skill.
- Don’t flat out tell someone they’re wrong. I don’t care if they are. Medicine is an ever evolving, growing field. You are an ever evolving, growing provider. You will NEVER know everything. And if you take a moment to stop and think about how that other person will feel, it’s uncomfortable and often times they may chose not to interact with you again in that way. You’re going to have patients who have wrong opinions, you know it and I know it, and its going to be annoying. But it’s life and you need to learn how to handle it.
- Lastly, I hope you guys did the research on different professions when you made the decision to become a PA, but if not, take a moment to learn what the other health care providers do. If you work in a field (like the hospital) where you can have interaction with them, ask them questions and get to know them. If you have respect for these fields now, it will carry over to your interactions with them as a PA.
In addition, I just want to point out another thing. The PA career was originally developed as a career to help physicians better care for their patients. Originally we couldn’t make a diagnosis. We couldn’t prescribe. And we were a lot more dependent on physicians. But look at what we have grow to, and are still growing to. Our profession is now 50 years old. And while we have changed so much, our focus is still treating that patient and making sure they get the best care possible. And while here may be debate over our name and what it stands for, I think its important to remember the “assist” of our name.
We are here to assist patients.
Assist them in their journey to becoming a healthier version of themselves. Assist them in taking charge of their healthcare. Assist them in combating their illness. And while I can understand the frustration when a patient does not understand the PA role or how well we are trained, I think it’s important to remember we’re there to assist them. Because no one can face the journey of their health on their own. And be proud that you are so important to their jounery. Stand tall behind the name of a Physician Assistant or PA.
I hope you guys enjoyed reading this, and that it caused you to think a little bit about how you interact with others. While you may not totally agree with me, the real purpose here was just getting you to stop and think.