Right-Those Wrong First Impressions

When you've gotten off on the wrong foot - whether with a supervisor, a co-worker, or a patient, it's both important and possible to get the relationship back on track. Simple steps to patching things up and moving forward.

By Marilyn Haddrill | Feature Articles | July/August 2008


Early in his medical career, pathologist Ronnie Garner, MD, was working at a medical facility where he observed blood bank procedures that he was convinced needed to be changed immediately.

Ronnie Garner, MD Medical Director of the Presbyterian Infusion Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Ronnie Garner, MD Medical Director of the Presbyterian Infusion Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But instead of welcoming Garner’s well-intentioned suggestions, the manager of the facility seemed to feel threatened and reacted badly.

Now with the insights gained from years of experience – including as a supervisor- Garner realizes the situation could have been handled far differently, not only to correct any unfavorable first impressions, but to avoid them in the first place.

“When you go into a new job, you don’t make random changes,” says Garner, who is the medical director of the Presbyterian Infusion Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “You learn the personnel. They learn you. You get trust.”

Garner says he should have waited about six months to take time and assess the work environment. Then he could have asked the manager for opinions related to any proposed changes. The idea, he says, is to enlist support from others—not alienate them by implying that their way of doing things is inferior.

“When you first come out of training, this may be a mistake that all physicians make,” Garner says. “I had been at some of the top places in the country, and I probably was very cocky about what I knew. I should have understood that there is such a thing as tradition.”

Awareness is key

Medical office environments, in fact, can be a prime source of festering employee unhappiness that can even carry over into patient relationships, says Tina Rowe of Denver. Rowe is a trainer and consultant in organizational and professional management who also provides internet counseling at www.workplacedoctors.com.

Rowe describes the physician stereotype of someone strictly focused on the clinical aspects of the practice, while perhaps lacking interpersonal and leadership skills. Unfortunately, this personality type is the very one likely to make a bad first impression on colleagues, supervisors, and patients alike.

“As a new physician, you have a real opportunity to be different from that stereotype,” Rowe says. “To start things out right, be aware of your impact.”

Rowe recommends combining confidence with humility. Be a strong physical presence and be direct, she says, but also convey the idea that you still have a lot to learn, and that you are open to those new learning experiences.


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