Medicine then and now: The importance of team

I have been visiting different sites and having staff meetings with different groups of clinicians since I came back to my psychiatric services chief job recently. I have noticed something that is very important to the smooth operation of a mental health center, and most likely any health care facility you might look at.

In order to do the best job possible and help the most people who need us, we must work as a team.

Now, when I trained back in the mid-1980s, the physician was still the head of most teams. He (or she) sat at the head of the table, set the agenda, and ran the meeting. The physician set the tone for what was important, what cases would be presented and what topics of discussion would receive the most time and attention. He would dictate to the social workers and nurses and therapeutic assistants what was important to get done that day, what jobs were assigned to whom, and other details of how the day would go for everybody. The whole process was physician driven.

Not so today.

Yes, I still sat at the head of the table at one of our clinical staffings today, but I did not run the meeting. I asked questions, listened to cases being presented, offered guidance where I thought it was needed or appropriate, and used anecdotes or examples to try to get my point across when I thought a certain point needed to be made.

The thing that really hit home for me today was that I was truly an “old dog” in a room full of young, energetic, talented, well-trained clinicians who were in various stages of orientation, training and clinical work in that unit. It was energizing to both try to teach them some things that I have learned over the last three decades, but also to listen to them and their fresh perspectives on current mental health problems, presentations and needs.

I am learning all over again that we all have areas of expertise, things that we like and don’t like to deal with, work flows that we have worked out for ourselves and that flow smoothly for us, and tips and tricks to share with others. We have knowledge that can be pooled with the knowledge of others, making the one cohesive unit much stronger and helpful than just a loose confederation of people who are trying to get things done on their own.

In other words, we need to make sure our data is accessible to others and is usable. We need to connect. We are much more effective as a team than we are as lone wolves.

Greg Smith is a psychiatrist who blogs at gregsmithmd.

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  • Rob Burnside

    All good points, Dr. Smith. Over the years, I’ve been on a number of teams. Some worked very well together, some didn’t, and would hardly qualify for the designation. Leadership made all the difference. Your team is fortunate in that regard!

    The only thing I worry about when I hear or see the word “team” is that, inevitably, some prospective members may be excluded. That’s the downside, and I doubt it’s a serious problem in your clinic, but it can be–anywhere, really.

    Few things feel better than being part of a successful, productive team, while few things feel worse than being “cut” from same. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your entire team!