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The secrets of my successful medical practice


Small changes can make a big difference. This doctor learned to be a better physician-from his mistakes.

To me, it's unthinkable that a physician can't succeed. There's an abundance of work, and we're still very well paid for our efforts.

When it comes to building and maintaining a medical practice, though, too many doctors are their own worst enemies. I should know, based on my own painful experience. Experience has also taught me that it's possible to thrive, if you become your own best friend. Here's what I've learned about the secrets of success. Try them yourself, and see how they work for you.

1. Smile. Many doctors walk around with a frown. They don't say hello, and they're grumpy and grouchy. No one wants to be around someone who's always in a bad mood. In contrast, everybody is attracted to happy, positive people. If you have to fake it (a little), that's okay. Smile even if you don't feel like it. Soon, someone will smile back and boost your mood.

3. Be consistent. Return every phone call in a timely fashion. Make hospital rounds the same time each day. Report to work on time, or call to say you're running late.

4. View everyone as a potential patient. Apply rules 1 and 2 with everyone you encounter. I've often run into family members of patients who know me from "somewhere." My first thought always is, "Where was that, and how did I behave?"

Don't say anything about anybody that isn't true or you wouldn't say to their face. You never know whom you'll have as a patient someday. And remember, no matter where you live, when you're in public, you represent yourself and your profession.

5. Stop needing to be right. Sometimes, it's best to let others be right, even though you could correct them. Nobody likes a know-it-all. If a family is convinced that it was the extra vitamins they brought to the hospital that cured their mother's pneumonia (while you had her on three antibiotics), let it go. Be sure to ask which vitamins they used, so you can order that brand for your next pneumonia patient.

Modesty doesn't apply when misinformation would be harmful, of course, or in a teaching environment. Even then, teach gently, with compassion for the feelings of others.

6. Give credit where credit is due. If a nurse picks up a subtle sign or symptom that significantly affects a patient's care or outcome, let her co-workers know about it. Announce at a crowded nurses' station, "Hey, Sarah, thanks for catching that for me." Sarah will feel great all day.

Look for opportunities to give sincere compliments. Everyone in healthcare works hard, but most get attention from doctors only if they fail. Show appreciation when they do well and you'll be appreciated in turn, many times over.

7. Don't try to impress. People expect physicians to be confident, decisive, and intelligent, but they especially appreciate the doctor who's down-to-earth and humble. You have nothing to prove, so relax a bit; maybe even dress down a tad. Don't wear $1,000 suits and Rolex watches on rounds. Many people resent that type of pretentious display.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health