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Speaking Truth to Yourself as an ED Physician

Words mean things. We all know that. Just a few misspoken words can land a person in big trouble. Likewise, the right words spoken at the right time can mean a world of difference to someone who is suffering. No one in the medical field knows that as much as those who work in the emergency department.

There is a phrase we use to illustrate taking a stand against some sort of injustice: speaking truth to power. We can modify that phrase slightly in order to address ED physicians and the words they use. Our modified phrase is ‘speaking truth to yourself’.

The words we speak affect both ourselves and others. What the ED physician says on the job can have a very definite impact on patient outcome and his/her own attitude. As an ED physician, speaking truth to yourself is essentially taking a stand against using words and phrases that do not improve the quality of your work or the outcome of your patients’ experience.

Four Example Words to Consider

As an illustration of the concept of speaking truth to yourself, consider a recent article from Emergency Medicine News written by Dr. Sandra Scott Simons. The article discusses four specific words Dr. Simons says physician should banish from their own vocabularies. Her thoughts are especially provocative in relation to emergency medicine jobs.

Here are the four words:

1. Provider

We have gotten into the habit of referring to healthcare facilities, doctors, and nurses alike as ‘providers’. Perhaps it is because this rather generic term covers more ground. But as Simons so clearly demonstrates, physicians are not providers. They are doctors. She further asserts that medicine is not a commodity. It’s hard to argue against her.

2. Customer

The same mindset that refers to physicians as ‘providers’ also refers to patients as ‘customers’. Simons’ rationale for banishing the word ‘customer’ is the same: medicine is not commodity. It is not a product or service purchased in the same way you might buy a cup of coffee. Referring to people as patients more accurately reflects the unique nature of healthcare services as compared to any other kind of product or service on the market.

3. Burnout

Simons next tackles the word ‘burnout’. She makes the case that physician burnout is the result of a broken system. However, she believes using the term makes victims of doctors and, as such, demoralizes them. It is her belief that employed doctors and locums alike should avoid talking about burnout as something they suffer from. Rather, the discussion should center on how the problems that create burnout can be corrected.

4. Resilience

Hand-in-hand with burnout is the term ‘resilience’. Simons suggests that using the term encourages a mindset of just sucking it up and plodding one’s way through life without hope of ever seeing systemic changes to a broken system. While it’s rather easy to make a case against Simons on this word, her point is still well taken. If the word ‘burnout’ demoralizes doctors, the word ‘resilience’ can make them feel as though they have no hope if they aren’t resilient enough.

Perhaps the key to speaking truth to yourself as an ED physician is going back to simpler language. Often times we come up with words we should not use out of a desire to sound more intelligent than we are. We create industry buzzwords designed to impress other people. Laying aside all the big and unnecessary words in favor of the way we used to speak is the best way to get to the truth of the matter.