I believe that when people are in a crisis situation small things can become magnified; good and bad, and especially in the healthcare field. A perceived small rudeness may just be the tipping point that causes a patient to leave a practice or go to another hospital. On the other hand, a smile, a kind word or gesture can impact someone more than you will ever know and leave a powerful and lasting good impression.
Some years ago, before my physician husband died, he was hospitalized for a lengthy period of time. Needless to say, this was a very sad and difficult time knowing what lay ahead of us. I spent many very long days at the hospital and I would leave at night feeling pretty beaten down.
Now, we encountered many very caring people during that time, but one woman stands out for me. She was the woman who took my parking ticket each night in the parking garage. My ticket would tell her how long my day had been and noting that, she would offer a warm smile and wish me a good night…it felt like she was verbally tucking me in. As the days went on, I looked forward to our exchange every night. And one night, I mentioned to her that she “made my day” with her kind words and warm smile and I went home feeling uplifted. She looked at me and said, “I love my job.” I was struck by that response and thought what a wonderful ambassador she was for our hospital. Her small kindnesses really did help sustain me and made a difference at a very difficult time.
At the end of my husband’s stay I sent a letter to the hospital administrator complimenting the staff for the good care my husband received, and I singled out the wonderful lady in the parking garage. So, I guess it should have been no surprise to me some months later, when I opened our local newspaper and saw an article about this special woman on the front page of the Feature section. Obviously, my experience was not an isolated one. Many other people felt the same way and it somehow caught the attention of the media.
Sadly, my husband had another hospitalization, and I did have the chance to see her again. When I left the first night to go home I said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but …” She looked and me and said, “You’re the lady who wrote the letter, thank you.”
Your small kindnesses may never get written about in the newspaper and most don’t, but keep in mind that small things can make big differences. That smile you offer or your kind word may just make the difference for someone having a very bad day. The cost is nothing and the return on the investment can be huge.
I will always remember this lady, and I understand now, more than ever, that there are no small jobs in any organization. It takes everyone at every level in an organization to get the job done and done well.
Karen Hickman is founder of Professional Courtesy and trains health care workers in professional courtesy essentials.