We can be more effective communicators by understanding and appreciating the expertise of all members of the healthcare team.
In my final year of med school, I participated in a unique and highly educational course at Johns Hopkins called “The Hospital–A Health Systems Science Interprofessional Clinical Elective.” The elective allows med students the chance to spend a day walking in the shoes of various members of the healthcare team, under the individual guidance of experts from each field. The purpose of the course is to expand med students’ understanding of the important roles and responsibilities of non-physician healthcare professionals. By seeing how we all work together in different ways to care for patients, we can learn to be more effective communicators and teammates. Over the course of a month, I observed and followed an astounding array of healthcare staff, including, among others, social workers, PTs, nurses, NPs, pharmacists, and dieticians.
Each day I made sure to ask everyone how I, as a future doctor, could be a better teammate. Almost unanimously the response I received was about communication. My preceptors consistently expressed that I would do well as a future colleague if I prioritized clear and candid communication. This transcended simply telling others what I wanted to do (or what I wanted them to do). It was the willingness to ask questions, receive feedback, and trust their expertise. It became patently clear to me throughout my time shadowing these healthcare team members that they understood patients and their needs in a way that I would never be able to explore or touch on in my regular clinical duties.
As a future physician I’ll be responsible for certain key aspects of patient care, but much is out of my control and in the hands of all of the other vital members of the patient care team. I was reassured to see how comprehensively patients could be taken care of when team members trusted each other’s expertise and communicated transparently with one another. I’m now able to approach patient care with a more humble and informed perspective into the complex needs of inpatients and outpatients, and I now have a better sense of my role as a future physician as well as when and how to refer or defer to others. I’m more confident that my commitment to clear, kind, and respectful communication with my peers will make everyone’s experience better and more enjoyable, leading to improved team dynamics and patient care.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.