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5 Common Physician Irritations and How To Handle Them

By: Jennifer Shaer, MD

1. Late patients

Do you get angry or irritated when a patient shows up late? Do you feel like your day is thrown off or your patient is not respecting your time?  When that happens, consider this: Your patient didn’t show up late with the intention of annoying you.  Whatever their reason for being late (traffic, car trouble, or just plain forgot), you have the power to respond and not react. Decide how you want to respond and move on. If you decide to see them anyway, don’t hold onto resentment. And If you decide they need to be rescheduled, don’t feel guilty. It may not be your fault that they showed up late, but it is your reality. Don’t give a late patient the power to ruin your day. Your ruined day and the mood it creates in you will become reality for everyone you work with.  

Remember, you can’t control other people but can control yourself. 


2. Charts

Are you always behind on charts? Are you waiting to perfect your notes before signing off on them? As physicians, we often get hung up on perfection and hard work at our own expense. This work ethic served us well and got us here, but it won’t get us out at the end of the work day, and it’s going to burn us out if we don’t ease up on ourselves. Consider letting your charts be “good enough” and go home.  The longer you wait to finish them, the longer they will take to complete.  

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. 


3. Non-compliant patients

Are you frustrated when your patients don’t follow your advice? As physicians, we want to fix things and make people better but let go of the thought that we can fix our patients. Only they have the power to fix themselves. You can advise, educate and support. Explore what obstacles they faced and why they didn’t follow your advice. Maybe they didn’t have money to fill the prescription, or they didn’t understand your advice, or maybe they didn’t agree with it and were too afraid to speak up.  

The bottom line, If they don’t follow your advice, it’s not about you; it’s about them.  

Be curious and non-judgemental as to why and don’t take it personally.  


4. Negative patient feedback

Do you get upset when a patient is unhappy with you, your medical advice, or your practice? Does it hurt when you get a one-star review online? It’s our natural instinct to want to be liked. The desire to “fit in” comes from our biological instinct to be part of a clan to sustain survival. When this happens to you, recognize it for what it is and give yourself some compassion. 

But don’t give in to the instinct to “fix” the problem so you will feel better and be liked.  

You can’t change the patient’s input but can change your response to the criticism.

First, give yourself compassion for being human and for feeling hurt. Then look at the patient feedback critically. If it’s truly something that you or your office did wrong, fix it, apologize and move on. But if it’s something that was “right” for you and they just didn’t like it, agree to disagree and stay true to your principles. It can be uncomfortable to sit with the feeling that comes with disappointing someone, especially when you are in a helping field. That’s ok, and that’s normal. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction can cause even more discomfort and consequences.

Remember, your goal as a physician is not to please everyone but to provide compassionate, top-notch care.  


5. Worry after hours

Do you worry about patients you send home?  Feel like you made the wrong decision and that something terrible will happen?  Those thoughts can keep you up all night.  Sometimes our brains spin in this cycle of worry and questioning. What to do? First, don’t beat yourself up.  Recognize that you have these thoughts because you are a caring physician who wants to help people and get things right. If you didn’t care, you would never worry. Your brain automatically offers you these thoughts, but you have the power to let them go so you can go to sleep and function the next day. Remind yourself that you made the best decision that you could at the time. If the thoughts keep popping up, try a guided relaxation meditation for sleep. Your brain cannot pay attention to two things at once. It cannot focus on thoughts if it is focused on body sensations. These relaxation meditations might help you fall asleep when your mind is swirling.

Dr. Jennifer Shaer is a pediatrician, the Chief Medical Officer of Allied Physicians Group, and a certified executive and life coach.  In addition to general pediatrics, she spends much of her time coaching parents and patients on healthy habits, behavior, mental health, and breastfeeding.   Dr. Shaer believes strongly in harnessing the power of the mind to maximize health and well-being and spends much of her time empowering teens, parents, and fellow physicians, to step up and live their best life. To learn more about her physician coaching services, click here.