Saturday, July 14, 2012

Doctors and Nurses: We All Can Win

Interactions between nurses and doctors can be entertaining, frustrating, enlightening, symbiotic, neutral, competitive, or otherwise charged with emotion or energy. Just recently, I've had several interactions that were all interesting in their own way.

A Surgical Interlude

Just recently, I was seeing a surgeon for a consult regarding a personal medical issue. Despite the fact that he knew I was a nurse with sixteen years of clinical experience, he insisted on explaining things to me as if I was a layperson. When I reminded him that I was a nurse, he seemed to snap out of his ingrained "tape" and relate to me on a more direct level.

It was easy to lapse into judging him for not readily acknowledging that I was a fellow medical professional able to understand what was going on without him needing to simplify his language to layperson's terms. However, I realized that he was indeed probably just running a "tape" that he's recited a million times before, and it was easier for him to just hit "play" and give me his usual spiel rather than tailor his explanation especially for me. However, if he was seeing a patient who was also a physician, I couldn't imagine him speaking to a fellow doctor the same way.

But all's fair, and I still left the appointment feeling that he had "seen" me for who I am, rather than just a faceless patient. 

An Uplifting Story

A wonderful doctor who I know wrote a story of her first days as a medical intern. In that story, she relates how, on her first night without a readily available Chief Resident upon whom she could lean for advice, she was thrust into an urgent medical situation wherein she was unable to determine the best course of action for a patient in acute distress. Sleep deprived and delirious, this doctor chose to allow the needs of the patient to supersede her own ego, and she allowed the nurse to dictate what the appropriate steps would be to salvage the patient and save her life. Based on the nurse's recommendations, the patient recovered fully and the doctor breathed a humble sigh of relief (while also realizing that the nurse wholly enjoyed having the upper hand in this scenario).

The next day, while giving report during rounds to the Chief Resident and his entourage, my doctor friend was congratulated for saving the life of the aforementioned patient. Rather than take credit and save face, she humbly acknowledged that it was the nurse who made the decisions who saved the life of the patient, not herself. Following rounds, she ordered an enormous bouquet of flowers for the nurse, cementing the foundation of a career wherein she, as a physician, consistently honored the knowledge and experience of the nurses with whom she worked.

Happily Sharing a Patient

Last month, I left a message for the doctor of one of my clients whom I case manage for a small local home health agency. After 24 hours, I received a call from the doctor, and I was taken aback by the personable, calm and patient demeanor that this doctor exhibited so readily during our call. Rather than rush me through my questions and concerns, she took her time, listened to each question quietly, responded thoughtfully, and then made sure that I was satisfied with her answers. She reminded me that I'm welcome to call any time with further concerns, and she thanked me for looking after her patient.

We Can All Win

I have had a wide array of interactions with physicians during my career, both on a personal and professional level. I'm a great advocate of positive working relationships between medical professionals, and I always appreciate when a doctor treats me as a peer despite the disparity in our levels of education.

Every encounter, interaction and relationship is unique, and I'm always thrilled when a nurse-physician encounter is positive and productive. It takes all kinds, and we all have our bad days, but when civility and respect rule the day, we all win: the nurse, the physician, the patient, the healthcare system, and the society at large.


Kim said...

Sometimes we get so caught up in the conflicts, we don't acknowledge the good in our relationships with our physician colleagues. I work with a great group of docs in the ER. Thanks for an uplifting post!!! : )

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

My pleasure, Kim! Sometimes it's a relief to focus on the good rather than the negative.

knitwitmama said...

I work in an ER in a teaching hospital where most of the docs are really good with their interactions with the nurses. There are a few ( there always are) who treat us as if we had no brain. When I was a new nurse they terrified me. But now I just feel sorry for them, they are missing out. They don't get the awsome feeling of being part of a great team.

Reagan said...

Hi! Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

Thanks and have a great day!

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

Reagan, please email me at

Knitwitmama, thank you for the comment. Yes, they don't know what they're missing.