Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hospital Experience #9: Priorities in Our Work - Who Comes First?

This is the ninth in a series of posts on a recent experience at Ochsner Hospital - having a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. These posts describe and reflect on various aspects of the hospital experience.

Like my previous post (Hospital Experience #8), this post continues my reflections from my earlier posts, especially Hospital Experiences #1 through #5. In this ninth post, I will consider what these experiences teach about priorities in our work. To make full sense of this post, it will help to have read the earlier ones.

In a work situation, our priority is the specific people whom we are there to serve. For hospital personnel, the patient comes first. For university personnel, the student comes first. For church personnel, the parishioner comes first. For hotel and restaurant personnel, the guest comes first. For store personnel, the customer comes first. For service providers such as attorneys and photographers and architects and plumbers, the client comes first. For public officials such as police officers and elected office holders, the citizen comes first. For veterinarians, the animals come first.

When I say that the ones we are there to serve come first, I should add that this assumes that moral principles are being followed. If someone whom we are there to serve should ask us to violate moral principles, then we need to put moral principles above service to the patient or student or client or citizen. Most of the time, however, the ones we are there to serve should come first.

Unfortunately, it is easy to forget this. The nitty-gritty of the institution can start to take precedence over those we are there to serve. This includes paperwork, housekeeping, building maintenance, and meetings. It can become more important to be efficient than to serve those whom we are there to serve.

There is nothing wrong with limiting our service hours. No one needs to be actively serving twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. In fact, this is impossible. Even more to the point, we cannot serve effectively if we are depleted. Psychotherapists seem especially prone to self-depletion by exhausting themselves with constant availability to their clients. We do need time for our own rest, relaxation, and recreation. But during our service hours, we do need to put those whom we are there to serve first.

What does it mean to put those whom we are there to serve first? I would say that it means at least the following.

  • WELCOME. We welcome those whom we are there to serve. We are happy to see our patient, our student, our parishioner, our client. They are never a bother or an interruption. If we cannot help them at a particular moment, we communicate a welcoming attitude and let them know when we can help them.
  • AVAILABILITY. We are available to actually serve, and those whom we are there to serve know when and how we are available.
  • PROMPTNESS. We are prompt with our service. We never make those we serve wait unnecessarily. We don't make a patient wait inordinately for assistance with bathroom needs or for a phone call communicating medical test results. We don't make a student wait inordinately for his or her work to be evaluated. We don't make a restaurant guest wait inordinately for a salt shaker that works or for a refill of water.
  • RESPECT. We speak respectfully to and about those whom we are there to serve.

During my hospital experience, I found the nurses to be welcoming, available, prompt, and respectful - except for Nurse Dreadful, whom I found to be unwelcoming and disrespectful. Nurse Dreadful communicated to me that I was bothersome and unimportant. I think that, at least while interacting with me, Nurse Dreadful forgot that the patient comes first.

These thoughts are a good reminder that for me, in my teaching, the student comes first.

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