I have a fantastic leader as our chief. He develops a certain softness in his voice and demeanor when he has to sit down with me and share some concerns. It’s like he is on my side. It’s like he believes in me. He thinks this was an act, but this is not who I am. I am trying to emulate this quality in me as a person and a leader.
One day, he comes into the physician workspace, sits on the computer next to mine and says, “Hey, Neha!” in that special tone — and I knew I did something I shouldn’t have.
So, he sits and reads these two complaint letters from a patient’s “family” to me.
Letter A: “The doctor from the medicine dept called me later from the ER, and it felt like all she cared about was getting the code status. Making sure he was DNR.
Letter B: “The second doctor who called me from the ER was so rude and had no empathy. She didn’t explain the situation of the patient but just wanted to know the code status and the goals of care with him being comfort care on POLST.
My first reaction was: What? That’s not me! I have empathy, compassion and all that for my patients and their families. I, in fact, remembered Letter B’s conversation very well even though it had happened a few months ago, and I had met about 100 or more patients in the meantime (it clearly was one of its kind; but for HIPAA reasons I can’t share much). So like any other seasoned doctor, I received the letter as a complaint and justified it by saying families are less receptive and more cranky at night, there is no proof it was me for Letter A either.
But then I took a moment to quiet down, to stop judging myself and not reading the letter as a complaint but as constructive criticism. All of a sudden it dawned on me like that soothing ray of sunshine on a rainy day just before the rainbow comes out.
There were striking similarities between the two cases: both were in ER while I was working night shift (my least favorite thing about medicine), both happened after midnight, and both conversations were on the phone with a guardian. There it was. Multiple years of working in the American medical system, but I hadn’t realized that I never knew the real value of a guardian. I only saw them as a person making decisions for the patient but not someone who is invested in the patient. And I expected someone to make these tough decisions without knowing what’s going on.
Boy, there was the truth was glaring in my eyes. I had never talked to a guardian like they were family like they desired or needed to know the patient’s medical condition.
The moment I realized it, I took this complaint as a learning lesson, as that sermon in a church that makes you cry till your tears dry only to be proven as a much-needed purging. The one which takes away all the pain and leaves you inspired and motivated with a new bout of energy.
I felt that boost, I felt that enthusiasm to be better, to do better.
All it took to grow, evolve and transform was taking full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful for those letters now.
What do you do when faced with criticism? Do you take full responsibility? What would change if you took full responsibility for your actions always?
Neha Didwaniya is an internal medicine physician who blogs at ThinkingOutLoud.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com