What do you most value in your colleagues?

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 7, September 2017, page(s) 345 Editorials
Willem R. Vroom, MD

In the past 40 years I have worked in medical offices, the emergency department, hospital wards, and in medical administration. In each of these settings I have been fortunate to have worked with colleagues whom I’ve valued in many ways. However, when asked what I value most, I needed to do some serious reflection. Is it friendship, wisdom, enthusiasm, or something else? 

Before I share my opinion of what I really value in my colleagues, let’s consider the responses to that question featured in this journal as part of the Proust Questionnaire for Physicians since 2010. For those of you unfamiliar with the questionnaire, it is about one’s personality, and it was popularized by the French writer Marcel Proust. Now, you may question the small number of responses (36) as having any statistical validity—especially after I tell you that I have arbitrarily categorized the responses into distinct groupings. However, amuse me (and perhaps yourself) and read on.

My first finding is that very few respondents were able to give a single value. Most reported two or three. The highest-ranked value was collegiality, with which I grouped team player, willingness to help, friendship, and loyalty. The next three most popular values were honesty, compassion, and communication. Interestingly, these three values, in addition to collegiality, are some of the main underpinnings of our code of ethics. Moreover, a lack of these values is also one of the more common causes of regulatory or medical legal encounters. I’d argue that the Proust Questionnaire responses identified the most-valued attributes that are quintessential to being a physician. 

Needless to say, there is variability in the expression of these characteristics among physicians. The fifth-highest ranked value from respondents does not appear in our code of ethics. It is humor. I was pleased to see such strong support for this value. Many of you can relate to the joy of working with a colleague who has a sense of humor—someone who can remind us that life isn’t always serious.

The remainder of my grouped values all tied for sixth place and included:
Dedication, passion, enthusiasm
Wisdom, skill, competence
Common sense, clear thinking
Hardworking

I agree that these are all admirable values. My own choices are different.

First, what I value most in my colleagues is dependability. In today’s practice of medicine we depend on each other to provide the best care for our patients. This includes ensuring a well-run office, covering for each other when away, following through with one’s commitments, arriving on time, and carrying one’s weight.

My second choice is curiosity and willingness to question common practices in a constructive way. I’m not suggesting Nobel Prize–worthy ideas, but those doable things that make you ask, “Why didn’t I think of and follow up on that?” Examples of two physicians whose inquisitiveness and perseverance improved my ability to give better emergency care are Dr Jim Stymer, the orthopaedic surgeon who developed the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) protocols, and Dr Jack Pacey, a BC surgeon who introduced the first commercially available video laryngoscope, thereby enhancing difficult airway management for many of us working in emergency departments. There are many more individuals to choose from, but these physicians come to my mind first.

My final choice for what I value and admire in my colleagues is willingness to teach. Teaching is rarely remunerative, it slows down the office, and it ensures that you are always late for supper. However, there can be no higher calling for a physician than to participate in the making of tomorrow’s physicians and to enhance the skills and knowledge of practising physicians. “A teacher affects eternity; he or she can never tell where his or her influence stops” (Henry Brooks Adams, American historian, 1838–1918).

We are all different and have different needs and expectations, but whatever those may be, today is a good day to acknowledge the values you admire in your colleagues.
—WRV

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