Manners maketh medicine
Posted on 5 November 2012 by Melody Clarke
‘Is that the medical SHO?’ says a cold voice down the other end of the phone.
‘It’s the emergency department SHO here. I’ve got a referral for you.’
Already, I am irritated by this bleep. It’s not the fact that it’s 3am and I’m adding another patient to my list, but it’s the exchange itself, which anonymous, unfriendly even. We’d been speaking to each other five minutes previously, and she knew exactly who I was.
‘I’ve got a name, please use it,’ is what I want to say, but instead I make a note of the patient and give my ETA back in the emergency department.
And it’s not that I don’t want to see the patient. Being on-call was the best bit of my general medical job, but I often think that work would just be a little more pleasant if people were a bit nicer to each other.
‘Manners cost nothing,’ I find myself reciting silently, a phrase resurfacing from my childhood.
To me at least, it seems that there is a prevalent culture of rudeness in the workplace. While the majority of people are fine, we become accustomed to angry and unreasonable patients and their relatives, aggression from allied health professionals, and ill-delivered negative feedback from colleagues. I’m still getting told off, even though I’m 35 and not five anymore. It’s not exactly a slap across the knuckles with a 12-inch wooden rule, but it still hurts a bit.
Or does it? I think we get used to abuse, aggression, rudeness, call it what you like. I hardly seem to notice things anymore. Things that once might have hurt at the outset of my journey into medicine, I now shrug off. I don’t internalise them. My skin’s so thick, it’s virtually impenetrable, a sort of emotional blunting. I barely notice the shouting patient, yet the tough-as-nails receptionist is visibly shaken, and the nurse has had her worst day at work ever.
Yet I think it is possible to achieve more if people are a little bit nicer to each other.
My best example of this is when I was working in a low-volume, high-maintenance specialty, and I managed to arrange a transoesophageal echo, a respiratory opinion, and an ultrasound-guided pleural tap for one of my patients at short notice on a Friday afternoon. Perhaps these things would have happened anyway, as they were clinically indicated, but I think that maybe I managed to get them done because I went to see the individuals involved and asked nicely.
But it’s not just essentials such as investigations for patients that are made easier by politeness. Perhaps it’s the non-essentials that can be facilitated by good manners, things like teaching sessions, or help with projects, things that are part of everyone’s job descriptions, top of your priority list, but bottom of other people’s.
I’ve always believed in the saying ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’, but I think you might get a little bit more if you ask nicely.
Melody Clarke is a specialty trainee