Cussed Out By A Doctor

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cussed by doctor:

How should I handle being cussed at by a Doctor at the nurses’ station, I am a nurse. What avenues do I have to complain or fight back?

Signed, Disgusted

Dear Disgusted:

Your hospital undoubtedly has policies about what communication and behavior are acceptable and what’re not, also channels and procedures for complaints. Consult your policy book and speak with your Department of Human Resources or Personnel Office if you want to register a formal complaint. If you have a nurses’ union, consult your representative. Your question implies that you are angry with the doctor who cussed you and you want to “fight”. That is a normal reaction when one feels demeaned, and it is good that you do not want to be disrespected. Your hospital procedures may call for one to handle complaints through channels between doctor and nurse representatives– rather than one-on-one, nurse to doctor or doctor to nurse.

The fact that you have sent this question indicates that you are unclear about what is acceptable and unacceptable in doctor/nurse communication in your medical facilities. What are the rules? What is the practice? What is the tradition and culture? The days when doctors treated nurses as subordinates who must jump through hoops have give way to respectful exchange, and you have a right to that kind of working relationship. If that is not the practice in your work environment, you will have to decide what you want it to be. Is your “fight” is with a particular doctor who cusses you or with a system that has yet to make civility and respect the norm? I urge you both informally and formally to talk with your superior about the kind of working environment you experience and want. Before you fight, learn what is expected and how you should “handle” this kind of situation.

However, before you complain or fight, would it not be wise first to ask and answer such questions as: Is this a one-time cussing or a pattern? What prompts cussing? What kind of working relationship do you and others have with this doctor and others? And more importantly what are communication dos and don’ts that can make both doctors and nurses’ work effective and pleasant?

If the incident or incidents of you being cussed is between just one doctor and you, you must chose whether to speak directly to her/him or to register a complain through channels, such as your immediate supervisor or Human Resources. You do not describe the circumstances of the cussing that caused you to write us or how you reacted? Sometimes the task at hand is so immediate that there is no time to correct a doctor who lets slip some four-letter words or angrily cusses you.

The only sensible interaction is to say something such as, “Doctor, I apologize? What do you want? Can I do that now?” Then later you can arrange to speak to her/him privately and assertively, “Doctor Jakes, if you want me to work with you, I will do my best work when you speak to me civilly. Cussing is not acceptable. Do you understand?” Other times a situation is not so hurried and you can speak up for your self at the moment, “Doctor, don’t cuss me. Just take time to say what is bothering you and how I might help you.” Ideally, the administration of your hospital will bring doctors and nurses together to hammer out rules of how they can best communicate and to clarify what is unacceptable. This kind of interaction can be scheduled within departmental units and a sense of teamness, so much needed to make a unit function smoothly, can result.

The goal within every department should be: To deliver quality services/products to both the internal and external customer. The fact that a doctor cusses a nurse might not be enough reason to make a case for doctor-nurse team building, but a pattern of disrespect and incivility is. You know your situation and if the instance you wrote us about is a symptom of a larger need of changing the climate in your operations. Does any of this make sense? If so, think though what are your options. After electing what you will do or not do, please feel free to share how you are “handling” or “fighting”. Working together with hands, head, and heart; and certainly that is what is required in a medical setting; takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden