By Karly Pippitt, MD
This is dedicated to my parents, who always taught me to be nice.
As a child, my mother’s parting words to me were almost always, “Be nice.” While I may not have always followed that advice to the best of my ability as a teenager, it is a phrase I often repeat silently to myself when I’m caring for patients, when I’m working with colleagues, and when I’m interacting with students. Although saying this in my head, I’m not always addressing myself. Sometimes I’m directing this advice to those I am speaking with, or, often, in relation to a story I’m hearing, wishing that I could tell a person that is not present: Be nice.
All this leads me to ask: Are we being nice in medicine? Can we be nice in medicine?
Let’s not forget why most of us went to medical school – to help people. And while we are helping people, let’s not forget to attend to all the people, not just the patient – support staff, care team members and colleagues. We need to help each other to ultimately help patients the most. All of us are human and need to be treated with kindness. Doctors have a reputation of not being nice to people in the healthcare field, especially nurses.
In the pre-clinical years of my training, I had an experience with an incredible family physician who gave me advice that I still share with students and residents. We were caring for an ill patient with a gastrointestinal bleed, and the nurse who was caring for him kept paging my mentor with questions. No more than 10 minutes would pass before she would get another page. A few times, a new page arrived just moments after she hung up the phone on the previous call. I asked, “Don’t you ever get frustrated when you’re being constantly paged like that?” She responded, “If you are always nice when you are paged, no matter how trivial you think the question or concern is, you will always get paged. If the nurses are scared of you, it will be the moment that you should be paged that they will not—because they are afraid of you.” I took this to heart during my intern year, although it was not easy. I recall just barely falling asleep after a busy night on call and getting paged at 5 AM to be told that the lab I ordered did not exist. Having previously ordered this particular test, I knew it existed, and it took much of my patience to not be angry at being awakened.
I am not suggesting this “be nice” business is easy. After a long night without sleep, after having a patient die, after reading a patient complaint, etc., it is definitely not easy to be nice. But none of us went into medicine expecting this to be easy. We literally deal with life and death. We deal with patients who are hurting, and in pain both physically and emotionally.
The world of medicine continually becomes more complex, with more information, more specialists, more team members to care for our patients, more technology and more questionnaires. I have a few thoughts for the success of medicine. Medicine is a team sport, and our team wants to succeed, so let’s become a better team. Let’s be nice.
Karly Pippitt, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah, School of Medicine