Doctors and cops can fight mistrust the same way

I read an article by Dr. Jarret Patton that reminded us that “Cops and doctors have the same problem: People don’t trust them.”

I remember thinking to myself that I had to do something to help clarify the source of this age-old problem and also to help improve the situation. It is important for us to remember that our past life experiences, diverse cultures, goals and moral values contribute to our perspectives of events around us and help shape our views and responses to these events and to other individuals. As a family nurse practitioner for over 16 years, I spent many years trying to figure out the most effective ways to interact with and build meaningful relationships with my patients. A few years ago, I eventually had an “Aha!” moment. This revelation occurred when I clearly understood that patient’s underlying anxieties (either about their medical diagnosis OR their inherent perception of the clinician) can easily contribute to their trust or mistrust of the clinician. Some patient’s anxieties could stem from the fear of their medical prognosis.

However, it could sometimes be due to other factors that are not within the clinicians’ control, such as: patient’s underlying doubt about the clinician’s ability, appearance, educational status, age, gender and even nationality and race. Thus, how clinicians approach and engage with their patients can either improve patient’s trust or intensify patient’s mistrust of the clinician. For genuine clinician-patient relationship to be established, doctors must take the time to know the patient as an individual and not always exclusively focus on the patient’s presenting ailments.

Similarly, this applies to cops and their relationships with members of the community. Law enforcement officials must take the time to know the values of the members of the communities where they are assigned. When community members are doubtful of the intentions of law enforcement, there is a heightened state of mistrust in that community. Thus, how cops communicate and engage with community members play a big role in trust development. They must take the time to know and address the values of the community members, and not always exclusively focus on the crimes in the community. Showing genuine concern about the hopes and values of community members not only promotes trust but also reveals underlying reasons for the crimes that are prevalent in that community. With this approach, the best law enforcement tactics to implement and address such crimes become more evident and successful.

For doctors and cops, the verbal and nonverbal communication approach (mannerisms, body language, tone of voice, eye contact, etc.) all play vital roles in establishing and maintaining trust. It is important for doctors and law enforcement to identify and address the source of anxiety for both patients and community members respectively. Several individual attitudes can manifest due to underlying and unaddressed anxieties, and when this is addressed, it helps alleviate people’s apprehension and improves communication which ultimately leads to trust development.

Nonye Aghanya is a nurse practitioner who blogs at her self-titled site, Nonye Aghanya.  She is the author of Simple Tips To Developing A Productive Clinician-Patient Relationship.

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