For many in health care and other careers that rely on a graduate education, there is a false assumption that success in your job naturally follows your training — unfortunately this is not the case. The effective practice of medicine is not alone sufficient for success in health care.
This post addresses how you can hit the ground running in your first position in any medical practice to guarantee a strong start to your career. Read on about useful concepts that are common in corporate organizations, but are overlooked in medical education.
The 3 A’s
Many of us have been told by mentors in medical school or residency, or by senior colleague’s in practice, a common aphorism for success in medicine: the three A’s. The three A’s are Availability, Affability, and Ability, often listed in that order of importance.
We as physicians and surgeons often take ability for granted. After four years of college, four years of medical school, three to five years of residency training, and additional years spent in fellowship, it is assumed that we will have the skill set necessary to provide excellent medical care to our patients. It is then incumbent upon us to continue to cultivate this skill set through continuing medical education, professional conferences, and critical ongoing examination of our performance and results. However, as mentioned above, skill is necessary but not sufficient.
As you get started in practice, it is exceedingly important to be as available as possible. This applies to patients, colleagues in the community, and partners in your group. While this tenet challenges the work-life balance that has become increasingly important to young physicians, you can easily distinguish yourself in a competitive environment by always making yourself available to others.
No one can doubt that patients certainly value this quality in their physicians. Simply returning a phone call in a timely way, or spending a few extra minutes with the last patient of the day, can go a long way to distinguishing yourself in the eyes of your patients. Some physicians may also advocate for communicating with patients via email or even providing your mobile telephone number as a way to make yourself available to patients. Patients value this access to their physician, and are often reassured just by having the ability to reach out to you.
Availability to partners in the community is equally important to early success in medical practice. Most of us spend a significant amount of time in the emergency department early in practice. By making yourself as available as possible to field phone calls from the emergency medicine physicians, and to come into the emergency department to see a consult, even if inconvenient or perhaps unnecessary, will build valuable good will with the ED staff, and will perhaps compel them to keep you in mind when determining to whom to send subsequent patients for follow-up evaluation. Similarly, referring providers will value a partner in the community with whom they can easily communicate, and who will be willing to see patients in a timely way, even when scheduling may be a challenge.
Finally, and particularly important to the topic of this entry, a new physician should make a concerted effort to be available to his or her partners in practice. You may be asked to see a patient, cover a call, assume care for a challenging patient, or help with a case in the operating room. You can solidify your reputation in the group for years to come with a simple yes to these requests. Making yourself available to help your partners will rightfully prove that you are a reliable and dependable teammate. Pragmatically, this will pay dividends as you navigate success in practice. In addition, you will likely need to depend on partners for similar requests in the future, and it is much easier to enlist their help if you have been available to them in the past.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines affable as “pleasant, friendly, and easy to talk to”. One can see how these traits would naturally translate into strong relationships with patients, colleagues, and partners. For many, affability comes easily; for others, it is a learned skill, but one critical to developing strong connections to those in our professional community. The challenge for everyone rests in remaining affable even during the most difficult days in practice, when you are tested with fatigue, stress, and limited time.
The three A’s is a simplified conceptual framework of the most essential traits to succeeding throughout your career. The remainder of the discussion focuses on a more detailed account of those traits and skills that are particularly important at the outset of your professional life.
Listen and Learn
Every organization has its own unique culture as well as complex web of relationships among colleagues and other team members. One of the most common reasons for the failure of an individual in a new job opportunity is personality conflict, and culture mismatch. It is incumbent upon you as the newcomer to observe and understand your organization’s culture. Listen to others interact and ask questions of those around you. This will allow you to be a more effective and productive member of the practice moving forward.
Delay Action and Recommendations
This suggestion may at first seem counterintuitive. Most would argue that being proactive would be viewed as an asset when joining a new organization. However, it is important to avoid the pitfall of coming in too strong with recommendations for change.
It is likely that you have spent many years training in some of the best institutions in the country before joining your current organization. Therefore, you have seen a variety of ways organizations can be run, and myriad systems and workflows across these organizations, including information technology, marketing, and team management.
While you may have valuable insight on these issues, before offering to implement sweeping change, it is beneficial to spend time observing your new organization, asking the right questions, and listening to others who have been in the organization longer in order to understand how and why current workflows evolved, what barriers to change currently exist, and cultural aspects to the organization that are important to understand before implementing change. This understanding will allow you to be a more effective change agent in the organization, at the right time.
This is perhaps one of the most important skills in starting strong. Start by developing alliances with trusted peers.
Identifying colleagues who can share insight about the inner workings of the group. Ask them questions that perhaps you may not be comfortable asking to help you assimilate more seamlessly.
Similarly, it is equally important to develop relationship with your senior partners. Doing so provides insight into the organization’s culture, and your senior partner’s expectations for you within this culture.
The best way to accomplish this is simply to demonstrate a sincere appreciation for the work they do every day. Learn about their role and their workflows. Ask about barriers in their job and what you might do to assist them. Make an effort to know them personaly. Relationships among coworkers are far stronger when there is an underlying personal connection.
While skill and ability are certainly necessary for success, they are not sufficient. Success requires a curiosity regarding the culture of the organization you have joined, a desire to build relationships with our colleagues and team members, and a understanding of the role you wish to play in the organization.
- Say Yes: Whenever possible, particularly with partners in your group, and in the community, SAY YES. Solidify your reputation as dependable and reliable.
- Learn the Culture: Each organization has a unique culture — learn it, then adopt it in your everyday interactions among colleagues.
- Build Relationships: Cultivating individual strong relationships are the building blocks to a successful team. Get to know and support your staff and colleagues, this will pay dividends in the future.