“You seem tired,” she told me. I was tired. It was the Monday morning after my residency interview in Indiana, my boards were in two weeks, and I had been in the car fourteen hours the day before. But, the comment still bothered me. I was not my usual self and my patient noticed.
Being a physical therapist is like being a rockstar. We don’t have a desk job and can never retreat to a cubicle no matter how much we may want to. We always need to be on, just like a rockstar. A rockstar cannot go on stage and deliver a mediocre performance; fans will notice. We cannot go into work and deliver a mediocre performance; our patients will notice.
I see physical therapy as a service, but also a reflection of me as an individual. Because of this, I needed to define what a rockstar performance means to me. To me, being a rockstar means delivering the same quality of care no matter how I feel. My patients will get the same care whether I’m having a high-energy day where I’m feeling exceptionally outgoing or a tired day where I wish I could hide in a cubicle and drink hot cocoa. The 4 principles I uphold allow me to deliver excellent care no matter how busy, tired, or overwhelmed I may feel.
Greet your patient like a long-distance friend
I’ve experienced that the more excited you are to see someone, the more excited they are to see you. If you greet someone like a long-distance friend you haven’t seen in a long time, you start the interaction on a positive note. If you do this consistently with your patients, they begin to expect it and usually will reciprocate the excitement. If you greet your patient with low-energy, you are more than likely going to be met with low-energy. The tone of each visit starts with you.
Educate like a teacher
Teachers own their students’ learning. They have the standard way of teaching things, but then they have this amazing ability to meet each student where he/she is. I didn’t understand multiplication initially and I still remember the m&m’s my teacher used to help me get the concept. We are teachers and if our patients don’t understand a concept or don’t recognize the importance of exercise, that’s on us. We need to work hard to meet our patients where they are and change our approach when necessary.
Plan like your mentor is going to take over
Sometimes patients present in an unexpected way and we aren’t sure what the best approach/treatment may be. Sometimes trial and error is necessary because excellent care is not cookie cutter. Thinking outside the box, asking for input from colleagues, and doing extra research is what it takes. We need to treat every patient case like our mentor is going to take over our plan of care. Would we proud if our mentor saw our problem-solving and plan of action?
Treat like it’s a loved one
Most importantly, I treat everyone like I would want another physical therapist to treat my parents. I would want my parents to have the most patient, engaged, and positive physical therapist. Neither of my parents would ever be intentionally guarded, impatient, or detached. So, if a patient happens to be impatient with me I can give them the benefit of the doubt. If it was my parent, I’d attribute any negative interaction as the result of pain, anxiousness, or misunderstanding. I do the same with my patients and they receive the patience and understanding that I’d want for both my parents.
Even in the midst of a burnout, my patients never knew the difference. On the outside, I was the same high-energy, positive, excited therapist I always was, even though I didn’t feel like rockstar on the inside. Now if you do feel burnt out, by all means get help, but even then your patient interaction shouldn’t suffer. The way we feel should not dictate our patient’s experience.
By approaching every patient interaction with these four principles, I can always “be on” like a rockstar. And the tired, low-energy days don’t stay that way. When I greet, educate, plan, and treat my patients in a way that aligns with my values, I’m immediately energized and can always deliver care that is better than good enough.
How do you ensure a rockstar performance?… Not rhetorical, I’m hoping you’ll share.