Last week, I got invited into my program director’s office for a little chat. My previous week’s attending had emailed him about a complaint made by a family with regard to the way I’d handled an event on the general pediatrics wards.
The exact events don’t really matter: all you need to know is that I made the mistake of relying on second-hand information while something fairly concerning was evolving. Although nothing untoward came of this, the perception of a delayed reaction on the part of a patient’s family was enough to provoke a complaint.
And another thing, said the email. For part of the week, I’d seemed sad, and not myself. She’d just wanted to let them know.
The whole thing, I felt, was a stunning display of ballslessness. If someone plans to give me career-damaging criticism, they should give it to my face first. This gives me the opportunity to discuss events with someone who knows the other people involved–in this case, the family and the nurse–and who is able to give some context to my actions. In addition, the circuitous route taken in this case results in a substantial delay in receiving important feedback. That delay makes it nearly impossible to achieve one of the most important outcomes after hearing negative feedback about a family interaction, namely, making things right with the family.
There’s something else that bothers me, though. If this attending thought I’d seemed sad, why didn’t she say something to me? Why did she instead choose to mention this in a tone not unlike criticism, in a letter otherwise dedicated to questioning my clinical performance? How can this even vaguely be confused with being supportive of residents? Or even, with being human?
It’s incredibly important to communicate directly with trainees, whether it’s to give constructive criticism or to offer support. To do otherwise creates a climate of fear, where lending a hand comes secondary to rapping knuckles.
After talking with my program director, I understood where the family was coming from, and the things I can do to avoid situations like this in the future. I expressed as much in a conversation with the family the day following the chat, and I think we’re OK.
This attending who sent that email, however? I wouldn’t piss on her if she were on fire.