Updated: Aug 26, 2022
When I was a child, my parents introduced me to the concept of “good manners.” These behaviors were a sort of code of conduct that included rules on how I should answer the phone and how I should act whenever we had guests over.
As a child, I just saw these manners as rules to be obeyed: Follow the rules, and you won’t get in trouble. But as time went on, I found that these rules were helpful. For instance, if I called someone’s home and the person with whom I wanted to speak answered the phone, I didn’t just assume that the person had the time to speak to me at the moment of my call. So I would ask if that person had time to talk. Sometimes people would tell me to call back at a later time, as that would be a more convenient time to have a conversation.
Eventually I found that these “good manners” were a part of a larger whole: the creation of good interpersonal skills. They were like a blueprint for how to deal with other people and, most times, get the best results.
During my time as an internal medicine hospitalist, I have worked with many patients and their families, as well as physicians and nurses. I think it’s important, first, to know how to introduce yourself to someone else in order to make the best impression.
I remember a time when my mother was in the hospital. One day I was visiting her, and a surgeon walked into the room. I just recall a guy entering her room wearing a polo shirt and jeans and identifying himself by his first name. I don’t even remember if he had an I.D. badge. He said, “Hi, I’m Bob!” In my mind, it sort of struck me, like: “Ok, Bob, who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Perhaps he should have been wearing his physician’s lab coat. If he wasn’t wearing an I.D. badge, that was a no-no, and he certainly shouldn’t have just introduced himself as Bob. I thought that the surgeon should have offered a more formal introduction to give my mother and me a chance to know who he was and what role he was playing in her care.
It’s important to know how to introduce oneself in the most effective way possible. I think one’s presentation of self to others has an important role in the field of healthcare. I talk about this in a communication method that I created called I-C-FAR. I created I-C-FAR as a way to streamline communication when a nurse updates a physician about a patient’s status. I have also found I-C-FAR helpful when I am speaking with physicians.
When you are introducing yourself to someone, such as a physician on call, I have found it helpful to note where your mind is before you make that call. This may sound like a simple principle, but we all have been distracted at moments like these.
One time I was working at a hospital on my night shift, and a nurse needed help with an order. I don’t recall the exact order now, but the nurse was feeling overwhelmed at that time. She felt as though she were not getting help from her nurse assistant (this person could go by a different title depending on the hospital in which you work). At one point it seemed that she might literally pull her own hair out. I listened to her and let her vent a bit.
Acknowledging how you feel when communicating with a physician won’t, in and of itself, resolve the situation you are going through. But it can make you more aware of your attitude and emotions so you can get the best message across in chaotic situations such as this.
When I get busy and I need to contact a physician, I always think about the message I want to get across beforehand. Also, I take note of how I am feeling—especially if my emotions or attitude could be a barrier or distraction. I have been in the very place of paging a physician colleague and being very distracted or emotionally involved in something else. In that moment, when the physician called me back, I didn’t deliver my message as well as I wanted to, even when I had all of my points written down. It wasn’t just about presenting well to a colleague. I wanted to get the call right the first time; I didn’t want to have to call back about the same thing.
Another important thing I have found helpful is to know how to identify your patient to a physician. I find this most important when I don’t know a patient. At times I have noticed that some nurses refer to patients by their last name first. For instance if they are calling about Robert Jeffries (not an actual patient), I have heard nurses identify that patient as “Jeffries, Robert.” For a moment it can throw me off a bit, especially if I don’t know the patient—and I am left wondering what the last name is.
What is something specific that you have found valuable regarding your interpersonal skills? What “good manners” do you use each day amongst your colleagues?