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Picture of man with bag over his head and lists of things that add or subtract to your reputation.

Reading time 3:56  


I learned in childhood that reputation is important.  As a result, we need to protect it.  Every action, reaction or response goes into making up our reputation. Our honesty, integrity, reliability and expertise are also contributors.   What we stand for and how we treat others on a daily basis are an integral part of our reputation. As we begin to practice optometry, we realize again how important our reputation is in building a practice and creating loyalty from our staff and patients.

Our words and actions have tremendous impact on every person we meet.  And it influences all future encounters with that person.  But, the consequences are more far reaching than with one individual.  It can also affect all the other people who know and interact with that original person.  In this day of social media, reputation can be harmed by bad reviews, disgruntled patients or former staff. What took us a lifetime to build, can be torn down so quickly. 


I recently read a book written by Tina Seelig titled: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20.  In it she expressed the importance of our reputation and the problems inherent with trying to recover from damage to it. Her metaphor was so well done that I wanted to share it with you.  She says,  

“… every experience you have with someone else is like a drop of water falling into a pool.  As your experiences with that person grows, the drops accumulate and the pool deepens.  Positive interactions are clear drops of water and negative interactions are red drops of water.  But they aren’t equal.  That is, a number of clear drops can dilute one red drop, and that number differs for different people.  Those who are forgiving only need a few positive experiences- clear drops- to dilute a bad experience, while those who are less forgiving need a lot more to wash away the red.  Also, for most people the pool drains slowly.  As a result, we tend to pay attention to the experiences that have happened most recently, as opposed to those that happened a long time ago. 

This metaphor implies that if you have a large reserve of positive experiences with someone, then one red drop is hardly noticed.  It’s like putting a drop of red ink into the ocean.  But, if you don’t know a person well, one bad experience stains the pool bright red.  You can wash away the negative interactions by flooding the pool with positive interactions until the red drops fade, but the deeper the red, the more work you have to do to cleanse the pool.”

What a great mental image that creates.  It is such a perfect way to think about how our every interaction either contributes to or takes away from our reputation. It stresses how easily our reputation can be contaminated. But, it also gives us some hope that even with a setback to our reputation, we can recover, though it may take a lot of work.  


Despite our best efforts to offer great care and treat people with kindness, we must accept that we can’t always control how others will perceive what we do. No matter how hard we try and how much we want to control their appreciation for our efforts, the simple fact is -we can’t dictate their reactions.  We can only control what we do every day and adopt an attitude of always doing our best. We must remember that every encounter is important.

And when a problem does arise, we must acknowledge the feedback and be grateful the individual made us aware of the problem- whether real or imagined.  Reassure them that you will look into the issue and make changes, if possible or appropriate, to guarantee this doesn’t happen in the future. Fighting back, being defensive, sarcastic, or insulting are not going to change the situation. In fact, those responses will only make it worse. Ignoring the situation is likewise unproductive.


We need to be aware of the experiences our patients have in our office. Our staff must also realize what an important role they each play in creating that experience. Staff behavior, attitude and interactions influence the reputation of the practice.

Honesty and integrity must be at the heart of all interactions with people.  When you are saying or doing something to “make an impression” it will often fail to create the desired result.  People pick up on insincerity and false or forced responses.  You have encountered people like this.  I am sure we all have.  We recognize that they are saying what is expected of them or what they think we want to hear. But, their actions and responses contradict what they are saying.  We know when someone is not authentic.  We don’t trust these people. 

So the best advice anyone can give you is to be yourself. Be consistent, fair and honest in all your dealings with both staff and patients.  But, remember this also extends to people you encounter in your daily life- your hairdresser, the server in a restaurant, the store clerk, someone in your church, the plumber you called in for help.  They can all influence your reputation in the community.  If you treat people well and are appreciative of their work and efforts, then you leave a positive impression.  However, if you are rude, demanding, unappreciative or entitled, the impression you’ll give is not one you desire.  You’ll never know when you may encounter that person again. In addition, you never know who else that individual may influence. A negative impression from one individual may affect potential patients in the future.


Treating other people as you want to be treated is good advice for anyone.  It enriches your life in so many ways. This principle is called the Golden Rule for good reason. It has withstood the test of time and is found in almost every ethical tradition and religion.  Adopt the Golden Rule in all your dealings with people, whether it is family, friends, patients, staff or just acquaintances.  Treating others with kindness and being fair and honest becomes your default position. You don’t have to think about it anymore. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not have problems, but it does lessen the likelihood. It will serve you and your practice well.  Hopefully, that combined with good care, will serve to protect and enhance your reputation.

How do you handle difficult situations in your practice?  What do you do if a patient approaches you in person?  Or in print?  How do you train your staff to handle awkward situations they encounter or to calm down an angry patient?  Are there set procedures in your office?  In the comments below, please share your ideas of what has worked for your practice.

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Man and woman talking at work

Reading time  4:10

Sometimes we forget how important positive feedback can be to our staff. We assume that they know how much we appreciate what they do and how much they contribute to our practices.  But the fact is, it’s important to share what we are thinking with our co-workers and not just keep it to ourselves.  I had this confirmed after a conversation with my nail tech, Nancy.

Nancy shared with me how pleased she was recently when she received some compliments from the owner of her salon. To make it even better, it happened at a staff meeting.

These two small compliments had a major impact on Nancy’s self- esteem.  This feedback meant so much to her.   She said that in fifteen years of working as a nail tech (and being very good at her job), it was the first time a boss or owner had ever complimented her.  How sad is that?  But, it also started me thinking of how I interact with the people I work with.  I have always tried to be good about giving feedback.  However, there is always room for improvement for everyone.


Getting positive feedback helps everyone.  Who doesn’t appreciate having their contributions noticed and valued?  Aside from our basic needs, we all want to know we have worth. We want our efforts to make a difference.   Think about how you felt the last time you got an unexpected compliment.  I’m certain it lifted your spirits and made your day a little better.

So how do we find the behaviors and actions that are deserving of praise?  First of all, quit looking for only the faults or negatives.  It’s really as simple as that.  Start looking for the positive. It just requires a change in attitude and a fresh perspective. You will find that there are many more positives.  And the natural consequence of noticing what is good, will be an increase in that type of behavior.   There is a quote by John E. Jones III that says it better.  “…What gets rewarded, gets repeated.”


The problem in a busy office is often the timing.  It’s difficult to find a moment when the employee and doctor are both free at the same time. But, waiting to give the compliment often means it gets forgotten and is never given.  

I have made a habit of writing down the relevant information (person, date, situation, etc.) so I don’t forget.  Then, I made it a priority to share this information with the person involved.  The sharing can be done daily, weekly or monthly. Find what works best for you.  But, don’t abandon it just because it may not be convenient to share the feedback at the moment the event happens. 

I love sharing unsolicited compliments from patients with the staff person involved. And there are so many other things that you can notice and comment on as well.  If you train yourself to look, you will see your staff do many wonderful things for you on a daily basis.  Some of these things include: handling irate or difficult patients, anticipating problems and intervening before they occur, helping a co-worker and just pitching in to help the office run well.  

It does require an effort to train yourself to make these observations, but it is so worth it. It helps the person involved, but it also makes you feel better when you share the compliment with them.  To know that you have helped someone, or made them feel better is a wonderful feeling.  And don’t downplay the difference it makes in the culture of the office as a whole.   When your staff knows that you see them and that you notice what they’re doing, they give you even more to see.


I also like to save a copy of these shared positive comments. Reviews are often skewed toward problems and deficits.  Looking at the compliments and all the times he/she has gone above and beyond the expected helps you to give a more balanced annual review.   Why not share all the good things and acknowledge the progress they’ve made along with the areas they need to work on?

One office I worked in had another great idea for sharing positive thoughts.  They had the entire staff participate by writing down any positive thing they saw a co-worker do.  It could be anything from how they worked with a patient, a good idea they shared, just being kind or going above and beyond what’s required.  The comments were placed in a basket and shared out loud at the next staff meeting.  It taught the staff to look for the good in their co-workers and created a more positive environment for the whole office.  A secondary benefit was that it encouraged this type of behavior in all other staff members.  Acknowledging good performance really does work.

I have also seen the use of a bulletin board located in a staff area for sharing positive feedback.  Employees are encouraged to post a note with a compliment for a co-worker on the board for everyone to see.  Either way achieves the same result. Teamwork and positive feedback become an important part of the culture of your office.

I suggest that you could take this system of praise a step further.  For every positive comment, points could be earned.  When they reach a certain number of points, the employee could pick from a list what type of reward they want.  It could be a financial bonus or time off.  They could earn an hour at a time and build it up or use it for an early end to the day, a longer lunch, or a late start to their day.  Of course, this would need to be arranged just as they do vacation time. Or the reward could be a gift certificate, flowers, a special lunch or anything else you can think of. It doesn’t have to be something extravagant.  The possibilities are endless. Ask your staff what rewards they would like. Giving your employees choices allows them to pick what is the most meaningful reward for them. 


We all know that there are times when negative criticism is needed. But, if you have negative criticism, deal with it privately.  Negative comments are often best handled when you have taken time to think about what you will say rather than in the heat of the moment. Words can hurt and are not forgotten.

Constant negativity creates a toxic environment that can infect everyone. It generates job insecurity and defeat. We will deal with the effects of negativity in a future blog.  


Some would argue that there is no reason to reward someone for doing their job.  To those I would point out that there are a lot of ways to get a job done.  It can just meet the minimum standards or it can be done with extra enthusiasm, efforts and ingenuity.  Allow and encourage your staff, and yourself, to excel and be the best you can be.

Being grateful for a good and committed staff and then showing your appreciation frequently helps a practice grow.  It builds trust and connections with your staff.  As a result of that, it also evolves into a natural connection with your patients.  There is no down side that I can see to being appreciative, positive and kind. 

How do you promote excellence in your staff?  How do you show your appreciation on a daily basis?  Share what has worked in your office in the comments below.

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Reading time 5:38


I am posting this blog five days after Halloween. But in keeping with the Halloween theme, I decided to write a blog about something I find scary in a practice. Toxicity.  Not the obvious type of toxicity with drugs, but rather a toxic environment.

We are health care providers.  Though most of our efforts are on improving the health of our patients, it doesn’t mean we can ignore the mental health and well-being of our own staff.   And, for that matter, our own health. 

In my more than forty years of practice, I have worked in a large clinical setting and in a partnership private practice.  I have also been doing fill-in work for many different optometrists and opticians.  It has given me a unique perspective on the relationships between staff and doctors.  I am still confused on why anyone chooses to work in a toxic negative environment when they could make small changes and create a positive one.  It has never made any sense to me. And yet, I have seen it happen over and over.


There are many factors that determine the environment and culture of an office.  In my experience, the strongest factor I have seen is the leadership of the practice. The leader sets the mood for the office. Leaders guide by example. They show us how to treat our fellow workers, as well as the patients who visit our offices. As a leader, we need to be aware of the example we set.

There is a hierarchy in most practices and it is necessary to some degree.  Someone has to be in charge and make the big decisions.  But their management style affects everyone who works with them.   Employees may try to counteract the undesirable aspects in an office, but it will fail unless the leadership gets on board.


Every practice is different.  And every solution different.  But, there are some common elements in practices that have positive cultures.  One of the most important factors is how we treat our staff.  I’m not talking about salary, bonuses, vacation, and other benefits.  Those things make a difference, but they are not the most important factors in how an employee feels about their work and why they stay in a position.  Studies have shown that employees will stay in a job, even when the pay is lower, if some strong basic needs are being met.

These basic needs include:  being heard, being appreciated, and knowing that what they do makes a difference. If people feel these needs are being met, they will become a good and loyal team member.

I know meeting basic needs won’t solve every problem, but it is an excellent place to start.  Treating our employees with respect and valuing their contributions and their ideas has no bad side.  It’s a win-win for everyone involved- doctors, staff and patients.  It’s also a win for our families.  If we leave our office less stressed out and tired, we can bring a positive energy home to our family instead of a negative one.


As I pointed out, I have worked in different settings.  When the office environment deteriorated, I did everything I could to make it better.  I put up with toxic environments for years trying to make them improve. But, one person alone can’t change a bad situation.

I stayed too long and felt myself become a different person.  I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I had no joy, no love for what I was doing.  No energy to even care anymore. Even my family noticed the changes and expressed concern for me. 

I love my career choice and taking care of people.  Fact is that I still do.  I am good at what I do. But I experienced first-hand what a lack of respect and trust can do a person- what it did to me.  Not being heard and not being valued stripped everything away from me. Being constantly bombarded with negativity damages a person at a basic level. Toxicity is detrimental to your practice on so many levels and not just in staff turnover.  And there is no reason for it.

There is no doubt in my mind that toxic environments change people in a negative way. The literature also supports these harmful effects.  It is well-documented that it is not only a psychological change, but also has many physical manifestations.  


It is beyond the scope of this blog to identify all possible contributors to a toxic environment. Books are available that cover the topic better than I can.  But, as a start, I would like to share some of my observations on what I have seen.

  • Never correct or criticize an employee in front of their co-workers and absolutely never in front of patients.  It is humiliating and robs a person of their dignity.  You have made it impossible for them to be effective in working with patients or fellow workers.
  • If you are angry, take a moment before dealing with the problem.  Words can hurt and can’t be taken back.  Consider what you want to say and how to express yourself in a constructive manner rather than a destructive way.
  • Don’t play favorites or compare one staff member to another. This is the antithesis of creating a team.  Appreciate every team member for their own unique skills and abilities.  When you start looking for the good traits in everyone, you may be very surprised at what you learn. And when you find those skills, you’ll see that they can complement and inspire those of other staff members.
  • Do you notice all the good things your employees do?  The times they go above and beyond what is expected of them. Do you notice when they correct a behavior you asked them to change? If you only notice the shortcomings, the mistakes and never the things they do right, you will have a problem on your hands.  


Bosses who only use negative feedback don’t realize that it won’t get them what they want. No matter what your staff does, you will always find something wrong.  Soon staff members will just give up.  What’s the point if you only see the negative and always find something else to criticize?  

When you choose to lead with positive feedback and notice all the little good things, you will get more and more of that behavior.  We all will repeat a behavior that gives us positive feedback and a sense of being valued and appreciated. It’s a good feeling.

Constructive criticism is necessary, but there is a right and wrong way to do it.  Remember that even if you try and balance criticism with positive feedback, we only hear and remember the bad things.  Everyone knows this.  Think about all the positive reviews you’ve received and that one nasty one that you just can’t forget.  Our staff experiences the same response.  

Try and make the critique into a conversation.  Share your observations and the problems you’ve noted and then ask them if there is something you can do to help them bring up their performance.  Include them in the solution. Outline the changes that you expect and need.  Establish a time table to re-evaluate performance.

Distrust, micromanaging and not being consistent creates an apathetic and defeated staff. Training your staff, encouraging them to learn, fostering their skills and then empowering them to perform will give you a talented, motivated and happy staff.


There is so much in our daily lives we can’t control, but creating a positive environment is something that is in our control.  It encourages each person to rise to their highest level. And it will be noticed and felt by every patient who enters your office.

Obviously, staff selection and training are also important to a cohesive work force and a positive environment.  But recognizing that part of the problem may be a toxic environment, allows you to begin to find the solutions.  Deciding to make a change is an important start.  Your life will be better for it.

What do you do to foster a positive office setting?  How do you interact with your employees to give them positive, as well as negative feedback?  Share your ideas on what has worked for you in your office.  Your comments and ideas may help someone else find a way to make their office environment more desirable. 

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“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

   Romeo and Juliet   Act II, Scene II

   William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Reading time 4:30 min.


I have to disagree with William Shakespeare a little.  When it comes to a person’s name, sometimes it is important to get it right. Watching the public interact with strangers, sometimes I want to cringe.  That is especially the case when I am in a more formal setting like a doctor’s office.

My mother is 97 and still sharp.  It strikes me as a little strange and cavalier when we are in a doctor’s office and a twenty year old technician calls my mother Marjorie.  Of course, my mother wouldn’t say anything or correct the technician even if my mom felt it is rude. But quiet acceptance doesn’t mean it is well-received.

My mother is not an exception. Many of our older patients feel it is somewhat presumptuous when addressed in such an informal fashion by someone they do not know. My mom was born in 1921. She is a part of The Greatest Generation (1901-1926).  It was important then to respect your elders. Now that she is an elderly person herself, she feels it is appropriate to ask what name she prefers.

That was not the only generation raised to feel this way.  My parents also ingrained that behavior in my sisters and me.  We grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I am in the Baby Boomer generation as are many of the patients we see on a daily basis.  We also learned to respect our elders. That rule of etiquette became a part of how we interact with others.  Many in this age group still expect that treatment. I know it may seem antiquated to some people, but I think there is some merit in reviewing and considering this old rule of etiquette.

Some rules of etiquette still make sense in today’s modern world, despite the fact that they are disappearing. Common courtesies when speaking to an individual are important.  Baby boomers learned that if we were speaking to someone our age or younger, then it was proper to use the person’s first name.  But, it was a sign of respect to address people who were older by using their social title (Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.) or their professional title (Doctor, Reverend, Father, Sister, Judge, etc.).  If the person said it was alright to use their first name, then you were able to address them as such.  But, it was only done with their permission.  If they didn’t suggest you call them by their first name, then you could ask for their permission.  But you never used their first name alone without asking first.

Showing respect and some common courtesies to your patients is a simple and inexpensive way you can make your office stand out from others.  To me, that means how you treat a patient from the moment they walk in the door to the time they leave the office.  Phone conversations, e-mails, letters and social media posts should also follow the same rules.

I read somewhere that a good way to look at what constitutes good manners today is to think about how other people may feel about the interaction.  How the recipient perceives your actions is more important than what is the easiest and most convenient for you.

Think about it. Doesn’t your patient offer respect to you by calling you Doctor?  Patients don’t assume they can address you by your first name. They show respect for you and the work you did to earn that title. Personally, I don’t mind my long-standing patients calling me by my first name. In fact, I often suggest that they do. Yet, it would seem strange to me if a patient new to my office began calling me Beth without asking or establishing a relationship with me first. I think that would be true in most offices. If the patient offers us that courtesy, shouldn’t we reciprocate?

Suggestions for today’s offices

There is the argument that everyone has much more informal interactions these days. But that doesn’t make it right in every situation.  It is never wrong to be polite and considerate. Always ask a patient if you can use their first name.

If you don’t want to be overly formal by using social titles (Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.) then at least use their first and last name on your initial encounter until you know how they want to be addressed.

Don’t assume you can shorten their name (i.e. Bill for William or Cindy for Cynthia, etc.).  Ask them the name they prefer.  Show your respect for them by always asking first.

When a patient has given me permission to use their first name, I generally put a note in the chart to indicate I have their permission to use it.   If they prefer a shortened version or nickname, I also record that.  When their name is difficult to pronounce, I try and write it in phonetics so that the next time I meet them, I will pronounce it properly. People will notice your efforts to use their name correctly.

We all want to make our offices stand out from others. Why not try this simple trick- be polite, courteous and sometimes maybe a little old-fashioned with manners? So few people offer these courtesies any more, you will stand out as special and unique just by being polite.  Don’t mistake good manners, respect and common courtesies with being formal or stodgy. An informal, fun, casual environment can still be respectful.

There are many ways to distinguish our practices. Each practice must decide what works best for them.  Offering state of the art care with the best staff, facilities and equipment accomplishes that goal.  I don’t disagree with that and in fact, encourage you to always set a high standard for the care you offer. But be aware, these changes might not always have the impact you are expecting.  If you ignore some of the simple and basic rules of dealing with people, your patients may not even notice what you think they should see.  Patients come back to your office because of how they felt about the care and attention they received while in your office.

Greet a patient with a smile. Shake their hand.  Have a friendly tone to your voice in person or on the phone.  Make eye contact and give them your undivided attention.  Treat them as a valued visitor to your office and not as an inconvenience to your day.  When they leave your office, they should know without a doubt that you valued them, cared for them and want them to return.

For more information on the thoughts and values of different generations of patients seen in your office go to

How is a patient addressed in your office? Do you have a set policy?  Do you feel it is important to consider this issue of names?  Leave your comments below.  Share your ideas on how you handle this in your office.  Let’s start a discussion.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Reading time 4:18

I am a bionic woman. After many surgeries, I am now the proud owner of two artificial knees and two artificial hips. Performing daily activities and being independent are wonderful gifts that many of us take for granted.

I learned valuable lessons while my joints were failing, and as I recovered from my surgeries.  What I learned from my experiences can be applied to the patients in all our offices. There are many people who are considerate when faced with someone who needs help.  Yet, I am still amazed at how many people seem oblivious to the challenges other people face. I am always stunned when this neglect occurs in a health care setting.

When using a walker, crutch or cane, entering a medical office is the first of many challenges. Look at the door to access your practice. How does it open?  Does it require a pull or a push?  Both can be tricky. If a patient is not alone, no problem.  But if they are alone, the struggle begins.

Let’s talk first about the doors that pull open.   A patient must step back to open the door. Then they must try and thrust themselves into the doorway to prevent the door from closing.  Not exactly a safe maneuver.  And if the door opens in, the patient has a new set of challenges. Both hands are on the walker or crutches. So the patient must use their head, shoulder or walker to push the door open.  Not exactly a graceful entrance and it can throw a person off balance. And if there is a vestibule with two doors and a small space between them, life gets even more interesting.

Understand that if a person is using a walker or crutches, they are using them for support and strength.  Removing a hand from the walker or crutch can affect a patient’s stability.   I am amazed when office staff and patients in the reception area can watch someone struggle without offering help.  We can’t control how other people respond. But, we can make certain our staff is aware of the importance of helping when a patient is struggling to navigate our offices.  Think about the positive impact of offering a helping hand without waiting to be asked.

Furniture selection for the reception area is important. Chairs with straight backs are good for patients using a walker or cane.  Sitting on furniture that is too low or too soft is disastrous for someone with physical disabilities or the elderly.  Also be certain you have several chairs with arms in your office.  People with disabilities learn that it is never safe to use their walker for support as they stand. Walkers can tip forward and cause a person to lose their balance or fall. Patients learn to use the arms on a chair to push up to a standing position and then safely transfer to the walker.

Many times I heard my name called at a doctor’s office to go back to the exam room.  The technician or nurse was halfway down the hall while I was still trying to get out of my chair.  I was already self-conscious about how slow I was moving, but the tech rushing away only made me feel worse.  My response is to hurry to try to keep up, but this is not actually safe. When someone is in pain or recovering from some injury or surgery, I can assure you that they are not moving slowly to aggravate you.  They are moving at the speed that allows them to feel safe and stable while minimizing their discomfort or pain. Slow down!  The exam can’t start until the patient arrives in the room. So show them respect and compassion.  Reassure the patient that you want them to take the time that they need.

Changing positions from seated to standing can take some time as well. It is vital that the patient feels secure before moving. Many people will stand still for a moment to get their weight redistributed and muscles engaged.  Then, when comfortable, will begin to move forward. Generally, allow your patients to get up on their own.  When a person has to use a walker or crutches, most will learn what works best for them.  You can politely ask if they need or want your help, but don’t force it on them.  If they do want help, ask them what they want you to do, rather than presuming you know.

Your staff can assist your patients in many different ways.  Just being aware of physical limitations is a start.   If the footplate on the examination chair is in a raised position, it allows a patient to walk up to the chair, turn and sit.  When they feel the chair behind their legs, they can then lower themselves onto the chair using the armrests for support.  Staff can then move the walker, cane or crutches out of the way for the examination. Never ask a patient who is disabled, either temporarily or permanently, to step up on the footplate and then try and turn around to sit in the chair. Once they sit, ask if they want the footplate put back down.  Most people will want this unless they have long legs.  Another source of discomfort is letting legs just hang with no support under them. It can be very painful, especially on a post-surgical patient since gravity will pull the leg down.  If their feet don’t reach the footplate, place a large book or platform on the footplate to support their feet and relieve the pull on their legs.  This also applies to people who are short.  Try and make your patients comfortable if at all possible.

If the patient had surgery recently, staying in one position without being able to move can make the patient uncomfortable.  When they are uncomfortable, they can’t concentrate and respond well.  Be aware of this.  If a patient is moving and repositioning themselves a lot, ask them if they need to stand or move.  Just changing position or moving a little can relieve this discomfort. Sometimes offering a small footstool and allowing them to elevate their leg will also help.

These are all simple and inexpensive things to do that can have a big impact. Being aware of your patient’s needs and limitations and responding appropriately will mean a lot to your patients.  They will remember your kindness and consideration.

What ideas do you have to make your patients more comfortable?  Share them below in the comments section.






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Reading Time: 2:17

I am a night owl and often catch bits and pieces of a lot of the late-night shows. One show in particular, made quite an impression on me.

On May 12, 2016, one of Jimmy Fallon’s guests was Meghan Trainor. She sang at the end of the show and what he did at the conclusion of the song impressed me so much. It was an unscripted demonstration of empathy for another individual. I never saw anything quite like that on television.

If you would like to see the clip, here is the link:

At the end of the song, and after performing some complicated choreography, Meghan falls. Jimmy’s response could have been to just help her up and show concern, or even make a joke about her falling. But, his unexpected response diffused a moment that could have been very embarrassing for Meghan. He just laid down on the floor beside her. It was a warm, human, and caring demonstration. I couldn’t think of a better response for the situation.

That action exemplifies empathy. The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is showing a person that you are there for them and to let them know they are not alone. It is listening with kindness and compassion.

When dealing with others, empathy is an undervalued trait. Empathy drives connection. And connection is vital to a successful practice and a meaningful life. Being empathic is a worthwhile skill to develop if you don’t already possess it.

When patients are afraid or difficult, empathy can calm them. Telling a patient that you have had similar feelings, and even giving an example, can create a bond and connection between you and the patient. This allows them to feel better and not so overwhelmed and self-conscious.

If a patient or staff member is describing a personal crisis (illness, divorce, death in the family, etc.), demonstrating empathy means you listen, recognize what they are feeling and show that you care. You can’t fix the problem, but by acknowledging their pain and suffering, you let them know that they are not alone.

When a staff member has made a mistake, or is not performing up to standards, empathy allows you to demonstrate your concern and desire for them to improve and succeed.

Still not convinced, consider the alternatives. Trying to ignore an awkward or uncomfortable situation definitely doesn’t work. In fact, it may even escalate the underlying problem. Telling someone who is anxious or stressed what you think they should do or feel is a disaster. They already feel embarrassed or like a failure, and you expressing your opinion will only upset them more.

Expressing sympathy won’t work either. Neither will judging someone, showing disappointment, or acknowledging that the shame and discomfort are deserved. When trying to decide how to react when you encounter these types of situations, think about the response you would want from someone if you were the one in the difficult situation and act accordingly.

The best, and only, answer is empathy. You don’t have to lay down on the floor with them like Jimmy Fallon. It doesn’t have to be that dramatic. Just listen and care. Be genuine. Don’t try to fix it for them, because you can’t, but support them instead. Tell them you are there for them. Let them know they are not alone.

Do you have any examples of how empathy helped you through an awkward moment? Share your comments below.

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Reading time: 3:00

I took my mom to an oral surgeon’s office. We walked into the office and the front desk staff all welcomed us with a smile. They looked at us as soon as we walked in, even if they were on the phone. After greeting us, the staff completed the requisite paperwork quickly. But, what impressed me even more was the nice, easy camaraderie between members of the staff. It was immediately evident.

I could tell that they enjoyed their work and that they worked well together. I saw staff members volunteer help to a colleague. They treated each other with respect and assisted each other. No one acted upset or as if they were inconvenienced by co-workers or patients. The staff was warm and responsive in all their communications with us and with each other. We never felt neglected or as if we were interfering with their work. Instead, we felt like we were the most important part of their job.

There was nothing particularly different in the office set-up. Yet, our experience in this office stood out as exceptional from the start. What they did was standard operating procedure for most offices. But, what stood out was the way it was done. The staff were kind, considerate and caring. They were attentive to us, but also to their co-workers. They made us feel like we were special and our needs were important to them. We never felt like we were one of the many nameless number of patients that had passed through their office that day, that week, that month. We felt like we mattered.

Contrast that experience to a blog written by my sister, Susan Stang. She is an industrial psychologist and the blog is titled “Your culture speaks volumes”. I quote her blog here.

“I was at the doctor’s office the other day waiting to pay. I waited for over 40 minutes and while I waited, I noticed. I noticed that the employees were painfully polite with each other. Rarely interacting, never smiling, careful not to step on each other’s’ toes. There was little interaction between them, and none with me. Although I was standing at the counter, no one suggested I take a seat, no one told me that I was in for a wait, no one explained the delay, no one reassured me that the payment would be processed soon. It was quiet, oddly so.

Yesterday, I went to a colleague’s office to coordinate work on a joint project. Unexpectedly, he was not available, and so I met with two of his staff instead. Two people I had never met before. They were friendly, warm, enthusiastic, and open with each other and with me- exceptionally so.

These events got me thinking about corporate culture. Clearly the two offices, similar in size, had very different cultures…and very different effects on me. One I will, if possible, never visit again while the other I will be happy to return to. What does your company casually convey to others? It is a message well worth considering and not easily forgotten.”

I am embarrassed to admit that the doctor’s office she described was one in which I worked. I know that she did not exaggerate since I saw this scenario play out time and time again on a daily basis. I had no control over it and the owner was unwilling to even listen to suggestions from any of the staff on how to improve the office and flow of patients.

I also know that the staff involved were good people who knew their jobs, but were beaten down by a negative work environment. It was an oppressive, toxic environment. I heard similar unsolicited comments from patients on many occasions. I felt helpless to explain to patients or tell them that it would change. There was nothing I could say that would justify the negative attitudes or the treatment they received. Don’t think for a moment that patients don’t pick up on a negative energy from you and your staff. They see and sense that staff is not happy and the environment is tense.

Take a close look at your office with unbiased eyes. Do your staff interact with each other in a positive way? Do they help each other or are they always looking for other’s mistakes and faults? Do they blame each other or take responsibility when something goes wrong? And perhaps the hardest question of all- do you contribute to the energy of the office and in a good or bad way? These are tough questions, but so important to your success and the impression you create for your patients.

It’s hard to admit that the culture of your office is less than ideal. But, if you don’t recognize it, you can’t fix it. A team effort is required, but the benefits to you, your staff and your patients are immeasurable.

Look for future blogs with ideas on how to positively affect your office culture. Visit our Facebook page for other ideas as well.

Leave your comments below on how you have dealt with problems in your office culture. We look forward to hearing your ideas or solutions for problems you have encountered.