Staff Decorum, Dignity and Respect

I have a friend. Let’s call her Jill. Jill is a middle-aged woman who leads a healthy and active lifestyle, and has since childhood. Last Spring/Summer, Jill began experiencing stressors in her personal and family life. Over a six-month period of time, these stressors started to manifest physically, as evidenced by significant weight loss and cardiovascular symptoms.

Upon seeking medical attention, Jill encountered a multitude of medical assistants, technicians, and nurses. These healthcare workers did not express words of compassion, sympathy, or condolence for her medical mystery. Instead, the healthcare workers complimented the fitness of Jill’s arms and the skinniness of her frame.

Working in healthcare requires more than being conversational, putting on a smile, and doing good work. It requires understanding and empathy. Good organizations have recognized this and implemented Safety Culture principles and/or communication tools to standardize patient engagement. But it’s the same with AIDET and C-I-CARE; effective use of communication tools requires empathy. And to empathize, one must decouple personal thoughts and professional behaviors.

Take a moment to ask yourself: Who cares if a patient’s arms look skinny or fit? Who cares if you think a patient’s newly-lost weight makes the patient’s frame look good? Do you think the patient cares? I made the mistake when I was young, as an ED nurse caring for a patient whose arm was torn open by a dog’s teeth, to say aloud in front of the patient: “Wow, you can see the layers of muscle. Cool.” The image of the patient’s face, in disbelief, when she looked at me afterward is imprinted in my memory.

If you answered, “I do,” to any of the questions, then get over yourself. Being a healthcare employee can feel anti-social at times, but its anti-social features are necessary for the integrity of the healthcare system. Healthcare workers advocate for the patient and the integrity of patient care. Healthcare workers are stewards of dignity and respect for patients. Who cares if a patient’s arms look skinny or fit?

Referencing Jill’s scenario, the actors along her value stream were not courteous, respectful and dignified. Her experience is not uncommon. Over-burdened managers and leaders feel there’s few fleeting moments available to monitor staff decorum. By a choosing a hands-off style, a manager or leader allows individual staff to shape the customer’s opinion of the healthcare team. To be effective (and despite the burden(s)) a manager or leader must put her “hands-on” to monitor the pulse of customer engagement in patient care processes.

The gist: If a thought or opinion is not germane to the care being provided, keep it to yourself. There’s a time and place for everything. Care for the patient meaningfully, and without flattery. Managers/leaders: Keep a pulse on customer engagement in your work-setting. Being overburdened does not preclude accountability for decorum.


James Shannon

Nursing Leader | Quality Leader | Healthcare Attorney

View all posts by James Shannon

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