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PT on the Run

Professionalism vs. Personality

Published June 5, 2014 3:40 PM by Michael Kelley

So a while back, I was working with a patient who just had a total knee replacement. She was mobilizing well, but kept looking down at her feet while she walked. So I stood next to her and looked down at the ground where she was looking and said, "I have a question for you." She said, "What's that?" I said, "Is there something interesting down there you keep looking at?" She picked up her head, looked directly at me and said, "F*** you!" We both started laughing. We had a pretty good rapport, but thankfully there wasn't anyone else around to hear!

Needless to say, it got me wondering, at what point do we sacrifice some professionalism and let our personality shine through. I am a pretty lighthearted person. I like to joke and can be extremely sarcastic. I also like to think I'm pretty good at reading people, so I know what I can and can't get away with when talking to patients or family members. Personally, I feel like all this "professionalism" stuff can impede our ability to form relationships with our patients. I think providing good customer service is a good and necessary part of any practice but not at the cost of eradicating my personality.

And honestly I think that patients appreciate my being honest with them. I have a bit of a reputation for telling it how it is and I have found that patients and families both really tend to respond well to it. The patients who are doing well find it amusing, and the patients who aren't doing so well find it motivating. Our rehab supervisor, as well as some of the nursing supervisors who are on the floor, are all about the good customer service and maintaining a professional persona at all times. I'm not sure that works all the time though.

Certainly in tough situations it's necessary, but in the day-to-day dealings with patients, I have found that being real and being myself can really go a lot farther than putting on a fake smile and being overly (and dare I say "awkwardly") polite. I think it's important for patients and families to see that yes we are healthcare professionals who are here to provide a service to you, but we're also human beings. We have feelings and emotions and they help express who we really are.

What do you think? Where is the line between professional behavior and our true personalities drawn? Have you ever had an instance where your personality conflicted with the professional expectations of coworkers or supervisors?

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I enjoyed this candid and honest article.  Thank you.  I feel having a raptoire with your patient can make up for any deficit that may remain with the patient.

Combining Personality with Professionalism is something some of us have naturally, but, unfortunately, many do not have a Personality.

Keep these articles coming.


Renee Hill, , Physical Therapist Foot & Ankle Specialists of West Michigan June 13, 2014 8:25 AM
Grand Rapids MI

I love this article. I am so the same with being myself at all times and never compromising my personality for professionalism. That is not to say that I am not professional, because you can definitely be both. I get way better results by being human rather than a robot. I feel that so many times professionalism turns into butt kissing and brown nosing, and that too me is disrespectful to the professional.  We are providing the service, so the patient should kiss our butt if anything and not the other way around.   At my place of employment I am consider somewhat of the "ringer" because of my honest approach.  When a patient is difficult to motivate or get to respond, then they send me in because I do not put up with crap!  I have a reputation as being pretty tough, but in a good way. I would much rather people be scared of me when I walk through the door then to think I will be a push over. You know when I come to see you that you will be doing the work, and you will improve and reach your goals.  But I also make sure people are having fun while they are working, you have to bring humor into the game.  Do I divulge some of my personal life to patients?  Yes, and that too makes them trust me on a more human level.  Being able to relate to someone and have them know that you truly understand how they feel creates trust way better than coddling in my opinion.  Does that make me less of a professional?  Some may think so, but it works very well for me.  I have been doing this a long time and have no plans to change who I am for anyone or any job.  My personality makes me a better PTA if anything, and I will not be anything less than myself.

Thanks for a great read!

Ginny Bolling, Home Health - Physical Therapist Assistant, Gentiva June 13, 2014 5:34 AM
Fort Walton Beach FL

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