How Can You Handle a Doctor You Aren’t Getting Along With?

You likely have encountered a physician who frustrates or irritates you, so much so you want to pull out your hair or scream out loud. Although it may feel good in the short-term to lose your temper and start yelling, in the long term it only creates problems at work with your patients and may mean you lose your job.

One important strategy psychologists teach couples during marriage counseling is that you cannot change the other person’s behavior, you can only change your own. While you aren’t married to the doctor on your unit, you still have to get along with them and provide a united and professional front to your patients. It is not healthy to change who you are for someone else, but it is necessary to recognize a small change in your behavior may result in a big change in theirs.

Recognize There Are Differences in Communication Styles

In the best-selling book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”, the central idea is that men and women communicate differently. 93 percent of the nurses today are female and 71 percent of the doctors are male. Nurses more often are expected to empathize with their patients and take action on understanding how to relieve their pain and suffering, while physicians are expected to diagnose illnesses. The differences in training and personality types that are drawn to these professions can lead to widely divergent communication styles and professionals who get frustrated with each other. Don’t expect the doctor to understand your communication style, but by remaining calm and attempting to understand the perspective they bring, you may be able to alleviate some frustration on your part.

Direct Confrontation

Some nurses have difficulty confronting situations in which they feel they’re being mistreated or disrespected. For many, the first step and being able to address a difficult physician may be developing self-confidence and the ability to confront others who speak or behave inappropriately. The range of difficult behavior is extensive. A physician may be difficult if they are unable to fully comprehend the impact a disease or illness has on a patient, or you may find they are being downright disrespectful and disruptive to the unit.

Sometimes the best approach to a physician who is unable to express compassion to a patient is to help the patient past the situation. However, when a nurse is on the receiving end of inappropriate language or actions, the best approach is to address the situation directly. Simply saying, “Please stop yelling at me” or “This is unacceptable” may be enough to help the physician become aware of their behavior and take self-control.

Watch Your Language 

When talking to a physician who may be exhibiting difficult behavior, it’s important to remember, if the behavior is not recurring, they may be having a difficult day themselves. Use “I” language to identify behavior that has an impact on you, and potentially a patient. For instance, “I felt intimidated when you yelled at me for asking questions about the medication orders for Mr. Thompson.” Keep your tone calm, your face quiet and check your anger at the door. If you become angry, it’s likely the physician will get angry and the entire situation will blow up into something bigger than it already is.

Recognize When It’s Gone too Far

When direct confrontation doesn’t work, or disruptive or demeaning behavior becomes a pattern, it may be necessary to ask your manager for assistance. Not every incident needs to be reported unless it threatens the safety of your patient or yourself. If you feel as if behavior escalates, it’s important to keep records of conversations and observations, as it makes a stronger case if you have to go to your manager. Note the date, time and place, as well as anyone who may have witnessed the incident, along with the facts of what was said or done.

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