It is not so hard to understand why medical practitioners might not feel a clear impetus for self-improvement in the workplace. The rigours of a doctor’s education in the years before they begin practicing suggest that education marks the end of a long road.
Once you gain your qualifications, you have become a doctor, as good as any other. But in truth, this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey towards ever-better understanding of medicine, your patients, and how you can take better advantage of your position to help them.
Unfortunately, since the role of physician is so specialised and complex, few outside the profession are able to properly evaluate their doctor’s performance. Instead, we must turn to the advice of other professionals, drawing on their experiences and hard-won learning to better ourselves and our practice. Here are some of the most straightforward – and necessary – tips from veteran doctors which all practitioners should be keeping in mind.
Your bedside manner directly affects your patient’s condition
There is a tendency, studies have shown, for medical students across all demographics and specialties to lose their empathy after leaving school. Obviously it is difficult to not become jaded after years of practice and thousands of patients, to let human interest wander as we reduce our role as doctors to an efficient, refined process. But perhaps there is also a sentiment, however unspoken, that compassion and empathy towards patients, communicating with them on a human or emotional level, is adjacent to our “real job”, a luxury to be sacrificed when it’s inconvenient.
No more can that attitude hold. Studies by the Canadian Medical Association Journal and British Medical Journal have shown that doctor-patient communication skills are one of the most essential aspects of our practice. Not only are patients who rate their physician poorly for communication more likely to change doctors – a reasonable assumption – but those whose doctors communicate well throughout all segments of their visits were found to have significantly improved health outcomes, in emotional health, symptom resolution and pain control. Your patients will go through life’s trials with you by their side in a position of trust and power; it’s vital that you use that privileged position to appear present, sympathetic and responsible.
Professionalism means more than just confidentiality
Over the past few decades much has been made within and outside the profession of doctor-patient confidentiality, and that is nothing but a good thing. It should be remembered that this focus on privacy is only a part of the broad standards of professional behaviour we should uphold. Being a physician means accepting significantly higher expectations of behaviour than most other professions. You must remain objective when seeing your patients – they come to you to be treated, not judged on their profession, class, lifestyle or conduct. As a representative of the medical profession you owe it to them.
Furthermore, you can never “turn off” your critical thinking as a practicing physician. Medical history is full of fringe cases, trusted facts overturned and unique situations. By keeping your mind open even as you consider the conventional medical wisdom on a case, you stay prepared for those times when unconventional action will be required. This can also help you stay abreast of ever-advancing medical and pharmaceutical technology, new treatments and emerging theories.
Have the courage to self-evaluate; be satisfied, but never complete
Nobody ever said that being a doctor was easy; if it was, everyone would be doing it. Physicians are human like everybody else, and you are allowed to make mistakes or miss things some of the time. But in forgiving yourself for legitimate mistakes, don’t forget them. Evaluate yourself after every professional action and ask yourself, as the title of this piece does, how you can improve for the next time. Only through such effort do we grow, as professionals and as people.