Saint Augustine called patience the companion of wisdom, but did he ever treat an argumentative rosacea patient who wants to bring her drooling Chihuahua into the exam room for comfort? Did he ever juggle a full-time career with the physical and emotional needs of a spouse and children? Or balance both a medical practice and a household budget?
Balancing a career or business, a family and a household is a given for many of us. When it comes to keeping cool and maintaining relationships with family, colleagues and our patients, communication and education are key. Sometimes that requires a healthy dose of patience.
Remember this scene from Seinfeld?
While the scene is funny, the topic is no joke: Studies consistently have found that doctors call one out of every five or six patient encounters “difficult,” and those who report dealing with more difficult patients are more likely to report burnout.
Patience is a Tool
Think about your own interactions. What is your reaction when a patient insists on unnecessary drugs, or has unrealistic expectations, or ignores medical advice, or complains persistently?
We often have to balance the need to provide information with the need to advocate for a specific decision. That’s not always an easy teeter-totter to balance.
Many psychologists advocate for thinking of patience in the workplace as a business tool. Just as a spreadsheet helps an accountant see a summed total faster, patience empowers us to suspend impulse or judgement long enough to communicate effectively.
“We can all work to develop more patience,” writes psychoanalyst Jane Bolton in Psychology Today. “An important idea here is that developing patience is just that. Developing a skill. We aren't born with it.”
When you're patient you take the time to assess a situation, see the big picture, and weigh any pros and cons. The chances of making a big mistake lessen because you avoid making it in haste. Taking the time to problem solve requires patience and deliberation.
Here are 4 tips to try:
1. Schedule a “Patience Day.” Mark your calendar for an upcoming day when you’ll be mindful of your patience during all interactions with others. You might be surprised at how poised you feel. Developing patience is much like physical exercise because it requires persistence and effort.
2. Pretend like you have a pause button. You didn’t become a dermatologist because you’re slow. Doctors tend to juggle tasks and appreciate immediacy. Don’t forget to breathe. The health benefits of deep breathing are established and fantastic. Book yourself an appointment with a quiet room and closed eyes for 5-10 minutes a day.
3. Voice your second thought. Practice thinking before you speak during times when you’re frustrated. Often our second thought has the intent of our first thought, plus nuance and context.
4. Address the patient’s pain points. Simply verbalizing what the patient is saying helps to let him or her know you understand the point of view. Communication becomes less combative — it’s the difference between talking with someone, and talking at them.
Maybe Saint Augustine was right that patience is the companion of wisdom. Think of that quote — and the tips above — the next time you’re confronted with a serenity-threatening situation.