Why doctors must learn how to advocate

Every doctor is an advocate, and every health care provider advocates. An advocate is someone who publicly supports something. Doctors advocate for avoiding smoking, losing weight, and taking medications. In those instances, doctors are advocating for better health. And that’s good. Do you know what’s better? Doctors advocating for themselves, for each other, and for their patients. And advocating is a skill that can be taught.

I’ve taught it. For over 20 years, I’ve defended health care providers in medical malpractice cases. People have a lot of words for trial lawyers (and not all of them are nice). But I prefer counselor and advocate. Counselor is my favorite. I have my psychology degree, and when providers are sued, they feel angry, hurt, vulnerable, and scared. Those feelings don’t help us win, so I counsel them on how to speak to their Inner Jury so that they can choose different beliefs, which lead to different feelings. Advocate is another favorite. I advocate for my clients, but that’s not how we win. We win because I teach them to advocate for themselves.

Juries don’t want to hear from me. They want to hear from the doctor who did the thing that the patient claims was negligent. The doctor has to use words, evidence, perspective, and credibility to persuade the jury. And doctors have the curse of knowledge. They know medicine so well that they forget what it’s like not to know it. I help them remember. And then we work to see things from the jury’s perspective.

My clients tell me that working with me at trial has made them better doctors. I always tell the doctors I represent that every single person in the courtroom is a patient, and no one but them (and any co-defendants or experts) is a doctor. Therefore, everyone sees things from a patient’s perspective. And we have to do the same. You can’t change a perspective until you understand it. But the great side effect of this work we do is that the doctor is better at seeing things from a patient’s perspective when the trial is over. And that makes her a better doctor. It leads to better relationships and even less burnout. This one tool of an advocate-perspective-can change a doctor’s life.

Facts tell, stories sell, and advocates win. If health care providers want to win better outcomes, better relationships with staff and patients, and better mental health, they must learn to advocate.

Heather Hansen is a communications consultant and attorney.  She can be reached at Heather Hansen Presents.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Leave a Comment

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories