Like may of you who work for a hospital, HMO or other organized medical care, I have often been frustrated by the rigidity and dullness of administrators. Many of them go by the rules and seem to be unbending.
Once in awhile one comes across some one who does not fit into that category. A personal example will illustrate this.
After I had retired from my academic position at the University of Miami I was doing intermittent "locums" work. I had just finished a six month assignment in Okinawa, Japan and was in my traveling mode. I needed to find my next "job" and had applied to an add from Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka, Alaska. That Indian Health Service Hospital was looking for an obstetrician and gynecologist. I was interested, applied and was invited for an interview.
I liked the job and they must have liked me as I was offered a two year contact. However as a new hire they offered me only two weeks of vacation and one week of Continuing Medical Education leave. For someone with my seniority, I thought that that was insufficient and said so. I left Sitka in a sad mood as I really would have liked that job, but was not ready to accept their offer of only two weeks of vacation time. I was told that that was the Company's policy, and that they were not ready to start a precedent.
Some days later, I received a phone call from the medical director of the hospital. She started off by apologizing again that she could not offer me more vacation, as that was the Company's policy for new hires. Right away I felt discouraged, but then she added: "We really would like to have you work for us and what I can do is give you two addition weeks of unpaid leave and raise your salary by two weeks (which, by company rules she was free to do). I was elated and accepted the offer for two years. We liked it there so much that we ended up staying seven years.
I thought that this hospital administrator was using her authority to make a very creative and imaginative decision. We all benefitted.
There should be more administrators like that.
Those interested in reading more about my experiences can download an e book for free from Smashword at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/161522 or just Google: "Crosscultural Doctoring. On and Off the Beaten Path".
It's been a while since I've added any thoughts to this blog. In that time I have finished my Obs/Gynae placement, I have spent a week on labour ward, and done my first week of my 4th year surgical placement. All the while cramming in revision between various activities and general staying alive measures. This, I feel, is how most people who are sitting their final written exams are spending their time, so I don't feel so alone.
I just want to bring to the attention one amazing incident that happened on my labour ward week. I was on a night shift, there wasn't a lot going on. Absolutely everyone was knackered, the registrar who'd been on nights for the past week was just chatting to me. I have never seen someone look so tired. The emergency alarm went off and a lady had a cord prolapse, which is an obstetric emergency with a high foetal mortality rate. Now I think it's amazing that the doctor went from nearly falling asleep to switched on 'surgical-mode' in an instant, successfully performed the C-section, delivering the baby in about a minute, then went back to being absolutely knackered and let the SHO close up the wound.
It just really impressed me and I felt it was something worth sharing. Actually I was incredibly surprised that I enjoyed Obs/Gynae. Women's health was a placement I was dreading, it was my last major knowledge gap and I didn't have a clue what it was going to be like. If my tutor for the block does read this, thank you for all your help and getting me involved in everything. I would encourage other students who are going into it and feeling any level of apprehension to just throw yourselves into it and give 110% effort. It is a great placement for practicing transferable skills (this is important to remember, especially if you don't have any desire to go into it you CAN transfer and practice skills from elsewhere!) and getting heavily involved in patient care.
Also I'd like to point out the Mother and Baby were fine :)
This anecdote happened many years ago when I was a brand new (read: inexperienced) physician doing my stint in the Colonial Health Service of the former Belgian Congo. I was assigned to a small hospital in the interior of the Maniema province.
Soft tissue infections and abscesses were rather common in this tropical climate, but at one time there seemed to be virtual epidemic of abscesses on the buttocks or upper arms. It seemed that patients with these abscesses were all coming from one area of the territory. That seemed rather odd and we started investigating. By way of background let me say that the hospital was also serving several outlying clinics or dispensaries in the territory. Health aides were assigned to a specific dispensary on a periodic basis. Patients would know his schedule and come to the dispensary for their treatments. Now this was the era of “penicillin.”
The natives were convinced that this wonder drug would cure all their ailments, from malaria and dysentery, to headaches, infertility, and impotence. You name it and penicillin was thought to be the cure-all. No wonder they would like to get an injection of penicillin for whatever their ailment was.
As our investigation demonstrated, the particular health aide assigned to the dispensary from where most of the abscesses came, would swipe a vial of penicillin and a bottle of saline from the hospital’s pharmacy on his way out to his assigned dispensary. When he arrived at his dispensary there was usually already a long line of patients waiting with various ailments. He would get out his vial of the “magic” penicillin, show the label to the crowd and pour it in the liter bottle of saline; shake it up and then proceed to give anyone, who paid five Belgian Francs (at that time equivalent to .10 US $), which he pocketed, an injection of the penicillin, now much diluted in the large bottle of physiologic solution. To make matters worse, he used only one syringe and one needle. No wonder there were so many abscesses in the area of injection. Of course we quickly put a stop to that.
Anyone interested in reading more about my experience in Africa and many other areas can download a free e book via Smashwords at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/161522 . The title of the book is "Crosscultural Doctoring. On and Off the Beaten Path"
The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world. It is one of the largest healthcare providers in the world and it is one of the most loved and needed institutions in this country.
The downsides to the NHS is that it is constantly ‘in crisis’ and it is expected to provide better care and newer treatments with less money and not enough staff. Recently, this has caused a significant drop in staff morale and the beginnings of an exodus of trained staff out of the NHS. This needs to be addressed.
If you read almost any management textbook, journal article or magazine, they will tell you that happy staff perform better. This ethos is easy to theorise but less easy to practice. Companies like Google and Apple have taken this to heart but so did some of the old Victorian companies like Cadbury’s and Roundtree. These companies aimed to make a profit but also to invest and look after their staff because of moral and economic principles… and it worked.
I believe the NHS needs to embrace this old fashioned paternalistic concept, if it wishes to continue to be a world leader in excellent, affordable healthcare and professional training. If the NHS invests in its staff now, it will increase staff morale, encourage people to stay working in the NHS and ensure top quality patient care.
Staff canteens open 24/7 (or near enough), that serve good quality, healthy and affordable food. If staff have to work unsociable shifts, it seems unfair not to provide them with the chance to eat a healthy meal at 2am rather than a Domino's. Staff canteens also allow the staff to unwind and socialise away from the wards and the public, they can be unofficial hubs of productivity where the 'real business' takes place away from the meetings.
Staff rooms with free tea and coffee - it doesn't cost much and every appreciates a 'cuppa'.
A** crèche** for the children of staff, on site or nearby. Reduces the stress of having to take children to carers and pick them up, allows greater flexibility for the staff.
Free staff car parking (if they car share). Staff have to get to work and cars are the most practical way for most people, so why punish them by charging car parking?
An onsite gym that is free/reduced price for staff and open 24/7 so that staff can pop in around their various shifts. The physio gym could just be expanded so patients and staff use the same facilities. Providing healthcare is stressful, takes long hours and is antisocial. All these factors make it easy to put on weight, especially with most hospitals only providing unhealthy meals, Costa and Gregs. So, an onsite gym would make it a lot more convenient for the staff to get the exercise they need to burn off all that stress and calories. Healthier, happier staff!
A hospital/ centre social society like a student ‘MedSoc’ to organise staff socials and sports teams etc. This organisation could even organise special events for the staff like a summer ball or sports day. Anything fun that would bring the staff together and let them blow off steam. It could easily incorporate, elected officials from the professional bodies and elected representatives of the different employees and act as an unofficial staff voice.
Regular staff forums that allow each group of employees to raise concerns or solutions to problems with the organisations management and senior staff.
Staff rota’s should not just be imposed by management but should be organised in a flexible manner that allows staff input.
The NHS management should encourage and provide extra learning opportunities for the staff. By investing in staff education they provide people with opportunities to develop them selves which will benefit the organisation and increase their sense of satisfaction with what they are doing.
Team based points systems for good performance and regular rewards for excellent care. These points systems can then be used to promote competition between teams which should raise the level of care. Have a monthly leader board and reward the best team with a day at a spa or something.
These changes may hark back to ideas that are out of favour now with the increased desires for measured ‘efficiency’, but I believe that these suggestions would hugely increase staff well being, which would hopefully improve their attitudes towards the organisation they work for and would hence make them happier and less stressed when they are caring for patients.
If you have any other suggestions for improving staff wellbeing please do leave comments.
The NHS is enormous and has a huge variety. It would be fascinating to survey as many parts of it as possible and see how many places have these services available for the staff already. Please feel free to contact me if you know of any study like this or if you are keen of setting up a study like this with me.
“You’re a boring whore! Fix it.” The barked criticism came like a slap in the face. The director of Les Miserables was right, though. I was a boring whore.
Actors need to immerse themselves in their roles, shed inhibitions and squelch embarrassment. I was not managing to do this while rehearsing the Lovely Ladies prostitute scene. My performance was overly self-conscious and restrained.
Three days later I found myself at a medical education conference, attending a session discussing learning plans. A popular tool in adult education generally, and a training requirement for all GP registrars, learning plans are actively disliked by many. Done purposely and thoughtfully, they can be of great benefit; completed hastily or reluctantly because they are compulsory, they are next to useless.
I have to confess that, as a registrar, my own learning plans were dashed off with little thought, submitted and then promptly forgotten. I’d never thought this technique would work for me.
At the conference, the attending educators were instructed to each write a learning plan that addressed an aspect of their non-medical lives. We were asked to choose something that we genuinely wanted to improve. I instantly knew what I’d write about, and completed the task with seriousness and sincerity.
The facilitator randomly picked a few participants to read out their learning plans. The topics were predictable: “I want to exercise each morning”, “I want to get at least seven hours of sleep a night” and the like. Yes, you can see where this is leading ...
I should have anticipated being called upon, but when the “We have time for one more, how about you?” came, along with direct eye contact and a kindly smile, I momentarily panicked.
Surveying the room of mostly middle-aged, male faces, many of whom I didn’t know, I considered making something up on the spot. Instead, I stood up, took a deep breath and read out: “I want to be a more exciting whore.”
I then outlined my proposed methods for achieving this objective and how I intended to measure my progress. Without explanation, I then sat down.
Silence. Not a sound. Most eyes were glued to me, the others looking anywhere but. The atmosphere was thick with shock, amusement, confusion, suspense and fascination.
I didn’t leave them hanging for too long. After my disclosure as to why I chose the topic and the context in which I was “whoring”, there were audible sighs of relief and a sprinkling of laughter throughout the room.
It was memorable for those present. Four years later, I still get the occasional question about my “whoring” when I run into certain educators at conferences.
I am pleased to report that my learning plan well and truly achieved its aim. I enacted my plan exactly as written and practised diligently. I knew I had been successful when the director instructed me to “Tone it down a bit. This is a family show, you know!”
I now feel a lot more comfortable extolling the benefits of learning plans to unconvinced registrars. I tell them: “I used to think that I wasn’t a learning plan-type person either but I’ve discovered that if you choose a relevant and important objective and spend time and effort working out how to achieve it, the technique can really work.”
I tend to leave out: “It didn’t do much for my medicine, but it turned me into a fabulous whore.”
This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor.
Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/
Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A few years ago, a package holiday company advertised guaranteed sunny holidays in Queensland (Australia). The deal went something like this: if it rained on a certain percentage of your holiday days, you received a trip refund. An attractive drawcard indeed, but what the company failed to grasp was that the “Sunshine State” is very often anything but sunny.
This is especially so where I live, on the somewhat ironically named Sunshine Coast. We had 200 rainy days last year and well over 2 metres of rain, and that was before big floods in January. Unsurprisingly, the guaranteed sunny holiday offer was short-lived.
There are some things that really shouldn’t come with guarantees. The weather is one, health is another. Or so I thought…
“Those capsules you started me on last month for my nerve pain didn’t work. I tried them for a couple of weeks, but they didn’t do nothin'.”
“Perhaps you’d do better on a higher dose.”
“Nah, they made me feel kinda dizzy. I’d prefer to get my money back on these ones an’ try somethin’ different.”
“I can try you on something else, but there are no refunds available on the ones you’ve already used, I’m afraid.”
“But they cost me over 80 dollars!”
“Yes, I explained at the time that they are not subsidised by the government.”
“But they didn’t work! If I bought a toaster that didn’t work, I’d take it back and get me money back, no problem.”
“Medications are not appliances. They don’t work every time, but that doesn’t mean they’re faulty.”
“But what about natural products? I order herbs for me prostate and me heart every month and they come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You doctors say those things don’t really work so how come the sellers are willing to put their money where their mouths are?”
He decided to try a “natural” treatment next, confident of its likely effectiveness thanks to the satisfaction guarantee offered.
Last week I had a 38-year-old female requesting a medical certificate stating that her back pain was no better. The reason? She planned to take it to her physiotherapist and request a refund because the treatment hadn’t helped. Like the afflicted patient above, she didn’t accept that health-related products and services weren’t “cure guaranteed”.
“My thigh sculptor machine promised visible results in 60 days or my money back. Why aren’t physios held accountable too?”
Upon a quick Google search, I found that many “natural health” companies offer money-back guarantees, as do companies peddling skin products and gimmicky home exercise equipment. I even found a site offering guaranteed homeopathic immunisation. Hmmm…
In an information-rich, high-tech world, we are becoming less and less tolerant of uncertainty. Society wants perfect, predictable results — now! For all its advances, modern medicine cannot provide this and we don’t pretend otherwise. Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A clever marketing ploy that patients seem to be buying into — literally and figuratively.
I think we all need to be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous words: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” We can’t really put guarantees on whether it will rain down on our holidays or on our health, and should retain a healthy scepticism towards those who attempt to do so.
This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/articles/11/0c070a11.asp
Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/