Over the last couple of weeks I have had several interactions at work that have left me questioning how I am portraying myself as a professional, and how I am being perceived by those with whom I interact. Probably about 90% of the time I feel respected and valued as a Doctor of Physical Therapy by my peers, colleagues, other members of the healthcare team, and my patients. For the most part, I believe that that feeling of respect goes both ways – I respect their experience, skill sets, expertise, and the position they hold and how it relates to me, and in return they give me that same respect. With my patients, I respect the often difficult position that they are in when admitted to the hospital, I try to empathize with them, and I try to find the best way to interact with them to engage them in therapy to maximize the benefits they receive from physical therapy. This, in some ways, is the second part of my thoughts on a team approach to best patient care. Every member of the healthcare team, including the patient and family, must respect every other member of the team in order provide the best care possible.
Sometimes that respect and team approach breaks down. Sometimes it is easy to see why, and sometimes it is more difficult to figure out where things started to fall apart. Over the last two weeks I have had three different interactions that have left me wondering if I should have approached the situation differently, or if I did the best I could and it was the other person who was unwilling to respect and work with me. In all three of these interactions my experience and expertise has been called into question, and I left the interaction feeling either belittled, disrespected, or frustrated.
While I hate to fall on stereotypes and don’t like to point fingers, I couldn’t help but notice that these three interactions had one big thing in common: I am a young woman, and the other people in the interactions were all middle-aged men. I have observed interactions between two of these men and other staff, and it was disheartening to me to see that I was not given the same respect as male staff, and that other young female staff were also treated like I had been.
So this got me thinking, maybe it’s not that I did something wrong in my interactions with these men, maybe I never had their respect from the beginning. Which lead me to the question: how, as a young professional woman with a specialized skill set and expertise, do I establish my place on the team such that my knowledge and experience are respected? I have a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree which took me 3 years of graduate school to obtain. I completed a year-long intensive residency program in addition to PT school – something few PTs do – to hone my skills and gain expertise in patient care. PTs as professionals are the “movement experts,” and in the hospital setting, PTs are the most qualified team member to determine and train a patient’s safety with mobility.
So how do I, and how do we as PTs, gain respect for what we do and for our clinical expertise? I don’t have a good answer, and I know many others have also struggled with this question. What I do know though, is that when I am consulted to see a patient, there is so much more going on than me just walking next to them in the hallway. If I take the time to seek out a physician to tell him that I think his patient is not safe to return home, there is probably a good reason for that recommendation and if he will respectfully listen, I will explain. And if you have been challenging, fought me at every turn throughout our session, and refused to acknowledge any concerns I have raised, then please at least listen to my explanations of the deficits I see and how my treatments can help.
I may have my work cut out for me to gain respect as I change workplaces every few months, but I will educate, and advise, and use my critical thinking and clinical expertise to continue to provide the best care that I can. And I will continue to foster a team approach to patient care, because I know that that is the best way to provide comprehensive care in the hospital, in rehab, and in the clinic.