The Mind of a Bajan

Caring for clients

Some years ago, there were several complaints about the treatment meted out to patients by nurses in the global arena. Then eventually, hospital administrators did something about it and there was improvement. Now my neighbour and others are asking if something needs to be done about doctors and other medical professionals.

This question was proffered after she went for her mammogram examination just last week. So as usual, having done my research, I discovered that there is a common problem of poor communication and interpersonal skills among professionals across the globe. My research led me to an article published by the Department of Emergency Medicine in Philadelphia on the importance of good communication as it relates to psycho-social and ambulatory skills for physicians.

This does not by any means suggest that all physicians do not have these skills, but given the nature of the discussion I have had with others, as well as what I have heard from some callers on the call-in radio programmes, it appears that for some it is sadly lacking.

The article this week is about the importance of having good interpersonal and communication skill competencies even when you are a professional whether you are a doctor or a manager. In this article doctor and manager will be used interchangeably since they all make major decisions that could affect the well-being of others.

In seeking to evaluate communication and interpersonal skills (C-IP) of physicians, Hobgood et al (2002) argue that these skills are key competencies that must be mastered. Furthermore, they suggest that acquiring knowledge about the speciality area was only one aspect of the job; the other aspect was gaining the respect and trust of the client/patient and their relatives. Another important aspect they included was being able to clearly articulate necessary information. For instance, Hobgood et al suggest that in the case of physicians and I believe managers, they should clearly express themselves in a language that is easily understood by the client/employee/patient. These suggestions also included treating the client with respect and empathy, using client centred behaviour by asking for feedback and suggestions.

Let me add here that a smile of encouragement and a little explanation about the procedure from the professional performing the task, especially for a procedure as delicate as a mammogram, is integral to obtaining the necessary trust.

In addition, these researchers discussed strategies that could be implemented by managers/physicians alike. These include developing rapport and building relationships. They believe that in this way a patient/employee would be very satisfied with the level of care or behaviour meted out to them by professionals. Simple tips like keeping your eyes on the same level of the patient/client/employee, putting them at ease and looking unhurried while being tolerant during short silences are all demonstrations of good interpersonal skills.

Now you may be asking what has this to do with the story in the opening vignette. From the criticism received, it would appear as if the professional carrying out the procedure on my neighbour (who is 60+) seemed to be very well trained in the technical aspects of the job but was sadly lacking in good communication and interpersonal skills.

This is often the problem with professionals who are frequently of the view that once they have mastered the technical skills there is no need to learn good interpersonal and communication skills. This is an offensive mistake since professionals can only achieve success through working with others and hence mastering good interpersonal and communication skills are essential as unfortunately having only the knowledge is not enough.

Furthermore, my neighbour wanted to ask some questions about the procedure but was cut short with a curt: “I am the person who is carrying out this procedure.” Given this piece of information, I then did further research and found an article on such behaviour as far away as Australia on this web page ( which suggests that professionals (doctors /managers) should exercise person-centred care.

The article mentioned five facts about person centred care however because of limited space I will only mention one: it places the patient/client at the centre of the transaction while focusing on the needs of the person; as a result, giving them a sense of importance, not ridicule as was suggested by the comments in the opening vignette.

The main point to the whole issue is treating others as you would like to be treated. We, as professionals and managers, must always focus on making a positive difference to persons that we interact with, which would also give us a sense of professional worth. We are all human beings and treating each other with a sense of caring should be the basis of all relationships. Finally, if we are guided by the old adage “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” we cannot go wrong. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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