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Being a Nurse Manager: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Working with the Harried Doctor

Published September 6, 2016 8:51 AM by Samantha Therrien
Most nurses have heard stories or experienced how unpleasant some patients or their families can be. How about the doctors they work with? Almost everyone in the medical industry has a story to tell about how doctors harass the nurses, insulting them and having screaming matches in the operating room.

As nurses, we experience different types of stress in the work place, including staffing shortages, issues with staff members and the physical and emotional exertion involved in patient care. A stressor that nurses encounter is that of the intimidating or hostile doctor. For the most part, doctors are great colleagues, and when doctors and nurses work well as a team, the best care can be achieved. In all my years of being a nurse, I have experienced dealing with harried doctors and witnessed doctors degrading and insulting nursesoften in front of their patients and other staff members. The everyday lack of respect and communication can affect staff morale, stress and patient care. The feelings of fear and lack of confidence in nurses who find themselves exposed to this type of situation can have significant impact on patient care.     

Nurses appreciate the incredible restraint and patience required when dealing with rude behavior. While this is an inevitable part of the job, there is always a way to deal with challenging doctors without it getting to you. I tell my staff to exhibit professional behavior, be prepared when reporting patient information or assisting with a procedure, advocate for the patient and family, and treat staff members and doctors with respect and consideration.

When approaching harried doctors with such behavior, consider taking these steps in managing difficult behaviors:

Don't take it personallyAs nurses, we can get too emotional and sensitive. As professionals, we need to be resilient. Most doctors get frustrated by the situation but that does not mean they hate you personally. As nurses, we are known to be very resilient and tough; we go through so many events in a day and still get back to work the next day, energized and strong.

Always remain calmDon't reciprocate anger with another negative emotion. Always approach the situation factually and without opinion.

If it your fault, apologizeApologize when appropriate. It will not make you les of a person if you learn to recognize and accept your mistakes. We all make mistakes, but make sure that you learn from yours.

Refuse to accept bad treatmentState calmly that you wish to be spoken to in a respectful tone. Alternatively, you can:

  • Walk away without saying a word.
  • Walk away while staying calm and ask the person to speak to you respectfully.
  • Stand tall and don't say a word.

DocumentDocument the behavior objectively to produce a record in a case of future situations or confrontations.

Report the behaviorReport to a manager or administrator if necessary to ensure official acknowledgement of the doctor's behavior.

When the lines of communication are kept open and a feeling of mutual respect and recognition exists, the work environment will likely improve. The bottom line is that you have to maintain your professionalism even in the middle of an argument with a doctor. You have to remember that you are a nurse, and nurses are there to give quality care to patients with confidence, and doctors are to be assured that their patients are receiving the highest level of care.

2 comments

I do not think that there will be any significant change in surgeon behavior until hospital management supports and only tolerates professional behavior from physicians.  The hospital should counsel physicians that it is in the best interest of their patients in promoting positive outcomes to treat nursing staff with dignity.  

The majority of the surgeons and anesthesiologists I worked with were very professional, but there were too many who were allowed to be bullies.

I decided to specialize in eye surgery at the end of my career because the surgical suite was quiet.  The patient was not under general anesthesia.  

Sara, Surgery - RN, Hospital October 2, 2016 9:30 PM
CA

Get idea but doesn't work if you're working in a facility where the doctors that behave like this are the primary or significant owners.

Sherri, O/R - RN September 27, 2016 11:56 AM
Philadelphia PA

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