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Doctors Behaving Beautifully: Thanks, doc, for promoting respectful medicine

Doctors Behaving Beautifully: Thanks, doc, for promoting respectful medicine

Picture of William Heisel

Do you know how many hours there are in a week?

For doctors, the answer is on the tips of their tongues: 168 hours. As one medical resident recently put it to me, "When you are in residency, you start with the hours in the week and then subtract the few hours that you are not at the hospital. It's not uncommon to work 120 hours a week. It's the reverse human schedule."

Journalists might suffer internships that require them to attend a city council meeting in the morning, a school board meeting at night and in between write a feature about a community fundraiser – complete with photos.

But those internships last months, not years. And few reporters can honestly say they went days without sleep.

So it is completely understandable that a third-year surgical resident in an urban ER who had been on duty for 20 hours straight might lose his cool. It's even more understandable when the cause for his temper tantrum was a seemingly inane bit of bureaucracy that prevented him from quickly washing off a patient who had arrived with battery acid on his face.

That resident is now Dr. Kenneth H. Cohn, a general surgeon and business consultant who writes for Hospital Impact. He reflected last week on that tantrum and how it forever altered his perspective on medicine.

I cannot remember the number of times that I apologized for my behavior and how many times I was admonished and reminded about how, in times of crisis, the team leader needs to remain calm. I felt that my behavior was under a microscope for the next year. It was truly a low point of my residency. I responded by changing my behavior and relating that humbling incident to teach incoming residents why they should not fight at night.

Cohn's explanation of how he moved from a "command-and-control" mentality to "vision, coaching, and democratic and affiliative approaches" is an insightful read.

There are thousands of thoughtful, skilled and caring physicians out there. Antidote uses "Doctors Behaving Badly" to highlight those clinicians who have gone off the rails in some way, but the vast majority of doctors are working hard most days to keep us healthy. If you haven't thanked your doctor lately, ‘tis the season.

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