Rudeness and patient safety

How rudeness affects your healthcare

I just read an article in the New York Times by Perri Klass, MD: Rude Doctors, Rude Nurses, Rude Patients.

Rudeness all around!

Dr. Klass, a pediatrician, refers to a recent study published in a pediatric medical journal. The study looked at how rude or disparaging comments (by an actor playing the part of an infant’s mother) affect the performance of doctors and nurses.

The study’s conclusion?

Rudeness has robust, deleterious effects on the performance of medical teams. Moreover, exposure to rudeness debilitated the very collaborative mechanisms recognized as essential for patient care and safety.

Dr. Klass wants to make it clear, however, that patient care is not worse because the medical staff is trying to punish the rude parent.

Doctors and nurses almost always strive to be as professional as possible. They are aware that fear and illness bring out the worse in patients and their family members.

But doctors and nurses are only human, after all, and negative comments—not just from patients, but from other staff members as well—can subconsciously affect their decision making and their ability to work as a team.

And that can have a negative impact on your care.

Think about the times someone has been hostile to you. Don’t you internalize the unkind or critical words? Wonder what you did to deserve them? How you can do better? Maybe think about how unfair the remarks might have been?

Doctors and nurses think like this, too. And if they are using brain power to fuel these negative thoughts, they are not focusing on providing care to the best of their ability.

Going to the hospital? Pack a little kindness

When my father was hospitalized two years ago, I thought my being a nurse would get him all the attention he needed from his overworked nurses. Professional courtesy, right?


But my sister-in-law knew what to do. She made friends with the staff at the nurses’ station. She asked their names. She brought flowers to brighten up the desk. She brought treats for them to share. She always had a smile and a “thank you” for them when she visited Dad.

She didn’t do it in a manipulative way, an attempt to bribe the nurses to give my dad better care.

She simply understood that everyone feels better about themselves and performs their jobs better when they feel appreciated and cared for.

Seriously, in today’s healthcare system, not many people—doctors, nurses or patients—feel valued.

So my sister-in-law did what she could to care for my dad’s caregivers, and enable them to focus on their jobs.

Her kindness put my own behavior in sharp focus. I wasn’t openly rude, but I was critical. As a nurse, I saw everything that wasn’t being done as I would have done it, rather than appreciating what was being done.

I learned a lot about myself, and about being a better patient, family member, and member of a healthcare team.

As Dr. Klass concluded in her own article,

Rudeness affects your spirit, your morale, your connection to your job and your effectiveness in that job. It gets in the way of health, and it gets in the way of healing.

Bottom line: Practice random acts of kindness, especially in the hospital.


Frugal Nurse


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