I went to the doctor last week. I am a new patient with this doctor, and I always hate going to a new doctor for the very first time because I feel very awkward and intimidated, and overall extremely vulnerable. Think about it – I’m entering a new environment to meet a stranger and discuss some pretty personal things. It’s not enjoyable.
My experience wasn’t a positive one. I was taken out of the waiting room a solid 25 minutes after my appointment was scheduled by a person wearing scrubs that didn’t even greet me and walked about 15 feet ahead, led me to a room where I was told to wait for some undetermined amount of time, and another 15 minutes later the nurse came in to ask me what I was being seen for and took notes and left, at which point I waited another 15 minutes for the doctor, who proceeded to ask me again what I needed to be seen for (I understand this is standard practice), and despite having 3 separate concerns I wanted address, she attempted to conclude the appointment after addressing one at a time which put me in the position to push for more information. She didn’t make small talk with me whatsoever, she barely examined me, wrote me a handful of prescriptions, and 12 minutes later was out the door leaving me to wait for another nurse to come and administer a shot.
My face was burning in embarrassment as I left.
But on my drive back to work I had some time to reflect and I suddenly realized how interesting it is for me to be on this end of an appointment, when I am often the person taking the appointments. I’m not a medical professional, but there are SO many lessons to be learned from my experience at the doctor that I can use to make myself a better practitioner. I was so excited about all of this I literally spent my lunch hour writing all about it in my journal that I keep at my desk and use specifically for professional development thoughts/reflections/stories.
First I thought long and hard about how I felt as a result of these things. I felt 1) like I wasn’t being heard, 2) like my concerns weren’t valid, 3) like I didn’t matter, and the doctor had better things to do. I never, EVER want a student to feel any of those things in part or in any combination as a result of meeting with me. After all, aren’t many of them in a similar boat as I was? Entering a new environment to meet a stranger to discuss personal things? Is that going to be enjoyable for them? Unlikely. But I can do something, several somethings, to help ease the discomfort and create a warm environment.
1) Honor our time together. If a previous appointment or phone call is running long, cut it short and encourage a second conversation with that person. Or, if it’s something that can’t wait, offer the student an apology/vague explanation to ensure they’re still important, even though I’m late in starting the appointment.
2) If the student presents me with a problem that is common and/or easily addressed with some resource or process that I frequently rely on (perhaps paperwork or whatnot), still allow them time to express themselves, and help them process their current situation. This will facilitate learning, acknowledge what they’re saying, and help build a trusting relationship.
3) Check in with the student at the end of the meeting to ensure all of their needs/concerns have been addressed in some way. If there isn’t time to address anything else, I’ll suggest a follow-up meeting later in the week when I have availability and schedule the appointment on the spot.
4) Dig in and ask additional questions and not assume that one single process or procedure or resource is best for all students in a similar situation. What else is happening with this student that will potentially alter my recommendations and any courses of action that may result?
5) Take an interest. Yes, this student is probably here to talk about classes for next semester (as is consistently the case this time of year), but there are lots of other things in their life – jobs, internships, student groups, families, hobbies, social lives… They exist a whole lot of places beyond classrooms and my office.
A bad experience is making me a better professional. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something during a hectic time when all of my appointments can feel somewhat automatic and it’s tempting to simply rush through and get to the next student and the next and the next. But how meaningful can those interactions possibly be if that’s the mentality? Not very.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Meagan, Karyn, Michael, and Alice, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.