The Just For Men commercials are playing on the human psyche. Gray hair equates to experience while the hair color of a more youthful man must equate to vigor and enthusiasm. Is this true in medicine? There are obvious advantages to experience but there also must be advantages to youth, right? What are these advantages and how does one convey them to the patient and, perhaps more importantly, to oneself?
Many patients may observe a middle-aged surgeon and assume the surgeon has seen and treated everything under the sun so he or she must be the best. This is often true but age alone certainly does not confer a better surgeon. Yet this patient perception that an older surgeon is “better” may have already helped that particular surgeon’s success rate and overall surgical experience in that the patients’ trust is easier to build.
Likewise, the youthful surgeon also may have a great surgical skill set developed through excellent post-graduate training. That is the beauty of training. As young surgeons, we have gained invaluable experience offered by those who have many years and much knowledge in their medical tool chest.
How do young doctors secure that same patient trust in their skills despite the lack of gray hair? I believe there are many methods for obtaining patient acceptance before operating. The first occurs prior to the patient even stepping through the door. It comes from those individuals who refer patients to you. If the referring doctor has glowing remarks about you, then in the patient’s eyes, you have validity immediately. Likewise, if a patient’s friend has referred him or her to your office and speaks highly of you, the ice has broken and the patient may let down his or her guard and trust your care without reservation.
The bottom line is that if you provide excellent care and have good surgical outcomes, you will develop a reputation among other providers that will translate into more confidence in you and more trust from your patients.
The ball is in your court the first time you enter the patient’s room. He or she instantly has a perception of you. Make sure you are well groomed. Enter the room with confidence. If shaking the patient’s hand is your thing, shake it with eye contact and a firm grip. Confer the message “I’ve been here before and I know what I am doing.” If you stand, stand without fidgeting. If you sit, do not slump in your chair.
Once you have an assessment and have made up your mind on the diagnosis and treatment, it is your time to shine. The trick is to describe the treatment efficiently and on the level of understanding of your patient. You have had a few minutes to read the patient so describe the pathology to the perceived level of his or her understanding. Be confident and honest. If you have a home run diagnosis and you are recommending surgery, the choice should be obvious to the patient. If you are not sure of the diagnosis, let the patient know that and offer him or her your plan to solidify the diagnosis. The patient deserves the truth and when you finally make the appropriate diagnosis through further testing, referrals or exclusion, the patient will have gained trust in you because you demonstrated your ability to provide thorough, competent care.
The question often arises, “You look young, doc. How many of these have you done?” In this scenario, I typically assure the patient I have performed enough of the said surgery to feel confident making the appropriate diagnosis, master the proposed technique and deal with the possible complications. If you have authored literature or have lectured on the particular topic, I feel it is appropriate to reference this achievement. Be honest and confident, and this will show.
If the patients are at all hesitant to make a decision, let them have the time to talk with family or their employer and schedule a return visit. Most patients who are not ready to make a decision appreciate visiting a doctor who they do not perceive as pushing them into surgery. Lay the foundation of why surgery is necessary or recommended, and the patient will, after having some time to absorb the information, have full confidence in moving forward.
As young surgeons, we can still make a difference in our patients’ lives despite our lack of years on the job. We are forever indebted to those more experienced surgeons who helped guide and mold us into the confident, capable young surgeons we have become. Our skills and treatments are valuable, and it is important to make sure our patient interactions foster confidence in our treatment, allowing us to reach full potential with each procedure. I believe patients who trust their surgeon, even us “young ones,” have a better experience and a better outcome.
With time, our faces will wrinkle and our hair will gray, and a different set of challenges will arise.