Is professionalism in medicine on the decline? A few months ago I saw a new patient who had transferred from another practice because the physician there wore sweatpants to the patient’s last appointment.
This was hard to believe, but a couple of months later I heard a similar story from another transferred patient. One morning, I saw a physician doing hospital rounds in tennis shoes and khakis. Is this acceptable in the practice of medicine?
When it comes to professionalism in regard to dress, one would not think this would even be an issue. As clinicians we are representing not only our profession but also the field of medicine. In general it seems that dress has become more casual compared with the past, but we do not need to fall into that routine.
How we dress makes an impression on others — and professionalism speaks loudly in terms of confidence. If the level of dress and professionalism are not important, why are there dress codes in graduate and medical schools?
Time management is another area that reflects on professionalism. My supervising physician shares a simple but important lesson that he learned at his first job many years ago: “If you don’t start on time, you won’t end on time.”
A clinician who falls behind is making patients wait and is not respecting their time. Visits get cut short and critical pieces of information can get lost in the shuffle. Some patients have waited three months for an appointment, and will resent being rushed. As providers we must strive to strike that delicate balance of spending adequate time with our patients while still adhering to the schedule.
Another important part of professionalism involves how we interact with others. Every aspect of our work is tied to our relationships with our patients and other members of the health-care team, from the office staff to the hospital board. When you take time to listen, not just to hear, your patients and practice will flourish.
I have heard many stories of practitioners who walk into the exam room after looking at the chief complaint on the chart and ordering a battery of tests without getting a history. It seems so simple, yet listening is becoming a lost art in medicine. As James B. Herrick, MD — the Chicago physician who, in 1910, published the first description of sickle-cell anemia in Western medical literature — observed, “The doctor may also learn more about the illness from the way the patient tells the story than from the story itself.”
The way we conduct ourselves as clinicians is being closely observed, whether we are aware of it or not. Always be mindful of your surroundings and treat all members of the health-care team, patients and their families, and society in general with the utmost respect.
Walk with confidence, dress appropriately for your job, and take time to get to know your patients. Our profession will continue to flourish and earn respect if we continue to hold ourselves to these standards of professionalism.
Chad R. Stough, MPAS, PA-C, works as a physician assistant at West Atlanta Pediatrics in Dallas, Ga.