10 things your staff would love to tell you

October 25, 2002

A veteran medical assistant has some good-natured advice for physicians.

A Medical Economics Web Exclusive

10 things your staff would love to tell you

A veteran medical assistant has some good-natured advice for physicians.

By Jacqueline Wilson

You're a good doctor. You arrive early and work late. You attend CME offerings. You patiently listen to complaints. You're almost perfect. Notice I said almost? As your assistant, I see just a little room for improvement.

1. Understand the position you put us in. Don't try to catch up on making travel arrangements or reading journals when three patients are waiting in exam rooms. It's difficult for us staffers to tell patients "the doctor's been delayed" when we know the reason you're running late is your inability to organize your time more efficiently.

2. We can't be in two places at once. Calling out "Have you seen my assistant?" implies that we're in the breakroom having a leisurely cup of coffee. No, we're probably taking care of something you asked for only moments ago.

3. Treat temporary employees with respect. A temp may do things a little differently from the way we do things, but her way may be better. So don't jump all over her! The extra pair of hands makes life easier for you. Please don't curse your assistant every time she hires a temp so she can take a much-needed day off.

4. We're not trying to play doctor. When we suggest you order an X-ray for an ankle sprain or a cbc for internal bleeding, don't accuse us of doing your job. We're just trying to make things move more efficiently. Don't worry. We don't want to get in trouble for practicing medicine without a license.

5. Give staffers equal attention. We don't expect preferential treatment when we're the patients, only what you do for others. We come to you because we've seen you in action and still respect you as a doctor. Remember to give us instructions for meds and procedures even if we've heard them a hundred times. It's different when we're the patients.

6. Keep one ear to the news channel. When the local news runs a special about the dangers of a new vaccine, lots of calls come in. Tell us how to respond to questions.

7. Write legibly. Print neatly. No, Penmanship 101 wasn't taught along with endocrinology, but handwriting should rank up there in importance. It takes up our time when pharmacists have to call to ask if your scrip was for Zantac, Xanax, or Zyrtec. Please just let them know what you're prescribing.

8. You're not the only doctor who works here. Yes, you and your patients are important, but why should it be you who decides what's important for the rest of the doctors? Consider this scenario: Dr. A says, "What? Your patient's white count is only 15,000? My patient's is 23,000—my patient gets the X-ray first." Dr. B says, "Oh yeah, well mine has a fever and I heard chest rales." Okay. We understand that both of your patients are important, but sometimes we have to take the fast-food approach—first come, first served. Look at it as a blessing; be grateful your partners are just as dedicated to their patients as you are to yours.

9. Do it yourself. If we're too busy to help and if it's so important, do it yourself. Here's the phone number for outpatient testing. Here's the phone. Dial. If your patient needs an injection, here's the vial and the syringe. Patients will think they're getting extra special attention if the doctor does work normally done by the assistant. Here's your chance to show them how multitalented you are!

10. Go easy on the cologne and perfume. We're talking about anything we can still smell moments after you've left the room or that clings to the phone. Patients have been heard to comment, "This room smells like a department store perfume counter!" There are already enough odors in the office—rubbing alcohol, benzoin, and burnt warts.

Now that I have that off my chest, I hope you'll heed some of the advice. If you're really brave, show this list to the rest of the staff, and ask if any of the complaints are legitimate.

The author worked for 17 years as a certified medical assistant at Mercy Urbandale Medical Clinic in Urbandale, IA.



Jacqueline Wilson. 10 things your staff would love to tell you.

Medical Economics

2002;20.