Medical practice lessons from a kindergartner

Deb Beaulieu

Deb Beaulieu

My oldest child started kindergarten this year, and it's been far more of an education for me than I expected. Not only am I learning that sending a child to school indeed comes with a procedure manual, but it also serves as a reminder about facing life's challenges and interacting with other people, many of which apply to the business world and healthcare, in particular.

The anticipation of change is often worse than the change itself

Transitions are scary for all of us. But to see the distilled version of terror of the unknown, try living with a five-year-old during the months of June through August. Even though the benefits of the change were clear and exciting, he would have easily put off making any new friends or learning anything new another year if given the choice. But the day came, and he reluctantly got on the bus. I have a heartbreaking picture of him with his little hand on the window as that bus rolled away. The days that followed have still involved plenty of adjustment, but none as dramatic as that first bus ride.

Medical practices and healthcare, in general, are in the midst of a period of tremendous change. You're adopting electronic medical records, rolling out ICD-10, becoming medical homes, forming accountable care organizations, hiring new doctors, losing doctors, growing larger, being bought, going boutique, going green, going crazy. But no matter how much you postpone or dwell on disliking these changes, many of them are going to happen anyway. Get on the bus. It will all be a little easier from there.

Empathy goes both ways

We talk a lot about physicians having empathy for patients or managers being sensitive to the perspective of employees, but there is no rule that says the person in the authoritative position can't receive compassion, too. This thought occurred to me a few days into the school year, when I asked my son, "How was your teacher today?" His response: "Well, she's still kinda serious. It's like she's always thinking about fire drills and lockout drills."

Whether his assumption was correct or not, I was impressed that a five-year-old, rather than complaining that his teacher was too uptight, made the effort to reason as to why she might act that way. My next thought: We adults could stand to do that a lot more often. When our superiors might talk to us in clipped sentences or seem distracted, our impulse shouldn't be to think they're jerks, but maybe consider the pressures they're under.

And if you're having an off day and sense others might be affected, it's okay to shed a little light on the situation without providing a lot of detail. A simple "Wow, it's been a crazy day" will clue most people into knowing the problem isn't them.

Teasing has its place

Some things that sound much like an insult to one person may constitute a high compliment to another. For example, one of my daughter's favorite dresses is one with very large polka dots, dubbed the "cow dress" by her brother. Similarly, she frequently requests I put her hair into two side buns that "make her look like an alien." Teasing is not bullying. It's a way to let other people know that you see them, that you notice something about them that's unique. Most often, teasing that comes from the right place makes the other person feel pride in whatever you were supposedly making fun of.

This recent post by Mikkael Sekeres, director of the leukemia program at the Cleveland Clinic, in The New York Times makes that point in spades. As he explains, poking fun at a cancer patient's tube socks or status as a Yankee fan isn't in any way meant to put them down. It proves to these individuals that their doctor sees them as more than a disease--effectively lifting them up when they need it most. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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