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(MedEd)itorial: Being Wonderful to Everyone in Medicine

I recently had the joy of stopping by a local breakfast spot in Philly. The diner is close to the hospital and serves a $5 special between 7-9 AM, making it a common meeting place for hungry post-call residents and nurses alike.

As you might imagine, nearly every visit involves running into a colleague. As I dined with a friend, I saw a fourth year student with whom I had worked in the past. His performance as a student was average, he wasn’t particularly friendly or unfriendly… very nondescript. On this particular morning, I was a bit sleepy, perhaps even irritable, after an overnight surgical call full of inane pages like “Patient had a single beat of VTach.” But my mantra forced me out of my seat without thinking:

“Be wonderful to everyone.”

It sounds so simple, even idealistic. But by the end of this post, I hope you’ll ask yourself, “Can I afford not to be?”

Med Student X was average in every way, and we didn’t have much to talk about. But I had no choice but to say hello, see how interviews were going, and ask him if he had gotten to that point in fourth year when life becomes a cruise. It was a pleasant 90-second exchange, and after that, I was back to my endless coffee. So…why did I bother? What could possibly be gained from this situation? As you will see, it is exchanges like this that will pay you countless dividends.

Being cordial to the people around you everyday, no matter what their position in the hospital hierarchy, makes your life a little better. And being “wonderful” to them makes your life a lot better.

First off, your life gets more enjoyable. There are few better ways to break up the monotony of repleting electrolytes than by listening to the rants of one of my favorite one-to-one sitters, Judy. She tells me what she is going to do with her imaginary lottery winnings (new lips and a new car), reminds me of the patient’s diagnosis (Oh he’s crazy!), and advises me only to get married once. She got married for the money the first time around, which was “poppin!” at the time, but left her heartbroken thereafter. Our working relationship is predicated on REAL LIFE, not numbers on a screen. Which do you think was more memorable: real emotion or a potassium of 3.6? Which memory will make me smile when I remember it? Having an involvement in the lives of EVERYONE around you will turn your workplace into a community. It will inject human emotion into days that can often seem rote and scutty.

Aside from your own enjoyment, being wonderful to everyone will help you get things done.

Think about when you were tasked with a 3 AM trek to the other side of the hospital to tell a patient why she shouldn’t pull her nasogastric tube out. You likely asked yourself, “Can’t the nurse handle this?” If she is a nameless “nurse” who is nothing more to you than a phone number and a set of hands, I venture she will not work very hard to convince the patient of the tube’s necessity. You will find yourself painfully re-inserting the NGT at 4 AM. However, if her name is Agbayani, and you have learned some words in her native language, have seen pictures of her kids, have complimented her on her Danskos, and have thanked her when she helped you in the past, she is much more likely to handle this one for you. Being wonderful to other members of the care team can only serve to improve the care of your patients, and this of course is our ultimate goal.

After I chatted with the medical student at the cafe that morning, I reflected on perhaps the most valuable result of the exchange: the cementing of myself as a positive character in a co-worker’s mindspace. While he might not have much of an effect on my career now, in 10 or 15 years, when I am looking for a faculty position, he might be working at my desired program. Or he might play golf with the chair, or be married to an assistant professor. Multiply this by everyone you cross paths with, and you have a wide network that holds you in its good graces. Do you want to be a name in a stack of resumes, or the applicant who took an interest in someone’s life? Can you really afford not to?

Walking around the hospital one day, I exchanged pleasantries with the cleaning staff, just like every morning. A colleague had asked me “Have you worked here for a long time? You seem to know everyone.” This was during my 3rd month of residency, and I took it as a compliment through and through. Interacting with staff of all levels, including the cleaning staff, high school volunteers, technicians, secretaries, nurses, security, medical students, in addition to residents and attendings, will improve your hospital experience. Be remembered as the doc who gave a damn and gave someone the time of day.

The fact someone doesn’t possess your advanced level of training is no reason to treat them as invisible.

At the very least, offer a “hello.” It is human decency to be good to one another. Take it one step further, and be wonderful to everyone.