For Docs: How to stand out as a top-tier doctor

Although I’m speaking mostly to my follow Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs) here–after all, that’s the discipline with which I’m most familiar–much of this could apply to any type of doctor or other healthcare professional.  And although I haven’t been in practice too long (only about 4.5 years as a doctor and 6 years before that as a neuromuscular massage therapist), I’ve been blessed to encounter gifted individuals and take what they had to say to heart.  Today, I’m attempting to paraphrase them all into a single blog post.  Please bear with me…

Top-Tier Tip #1: Know Your Anatomy

This becomes more important the more you work with the physical body.  Chiropractic doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, etc, this is especially important for you, especially if you’re a DC or DO who performs joint manipulation (LMTs, don’t even think about it!!  I know some of you do–stop now), or you’re an LMT who attempts to help people with any kind of pain management beyond a simple relaxation massage.  (However, even those LMTs who “only” give a basic Swedish massage will give a much better massage the stronger your anatomy knowledge.)  Adjusting DCs, I know it’s tempting to focus on the spine, but don’t get stuck there–know your muscles, your nerve routes, and just about everything else.  Don’t forget your general family-practice-related internal medicine, either, because someone’s thoracic pain may be a pancreatic issue, or their low back or shoulder blade pain could be a gallbladder problem.

Top-Tier Tip #2: Know Your Physiology

Study up on all the general functions of the human body.  It’s daunting, I know.  Despite its relatively small size, it’s a pretty high-performance, high-maintenance little organism.  If you’re weak on your cardiovascular system, nervous system, endocrinology, immune function, digestive tract, kidney and blood pressure regulation systems, mitochondrial function, liver biotransformation, etc, your patients will eventually suffer.  Brush up on these subjects regularly and keep them fresh in your mind so that when a patient comes in and describes a problem to you, you don’t overlook anything.

Top-Tier Tip #3: Stay Current On Your Information

It hasn’t even been 5 years since I graduated and already, medicine–and our collective body of knowledge thereof–has changed dramatically and grown exponentially.  The research landscape 5 and 10 years ago is nowhere near what it is now.  We’ve been identifying gene polymorphisms, the impact of various species of intestinal microbiota, newfound significance of various nutrients, isolations and functions of phytonutrients, and well, you get the idea.  Even those of you who are recent grads would do well to subscribe to a healthcare-related research journal or two because even though you just graduated, things have changed already, and believe me–the information we learned in school was about 10-30+ years out-of-date when we learned it!  In other words, we were never current; that’s why it’s good to hit Google Scholar and have fun, because if what we do works, it’s important to try to know why.

Top-Tier Tip #4: Back Up Your Claims…

…preferably with research.  I’m not going to be a narrow-minded stick-in-the-mud that preaches abstaining from utilizing any experimental treatments/remedies/interventions until they’ve been “proven”.  Sometimes, a remedy works, even if we don’t know how or why.  Aspirin was in use (in its natural form) 700 years before we figured out its mechanism (which we only did about 50-70 years ago) and yet, we still used it–and benefitted from it–before we knew how and why it worked.  However, if you’re going to make a claim, back it up.  Did you read it in a research article/study?  Who published it?  Is it a respected journal?  Or, did you find it on a website like Livestrong or Mercola?  Did those authors cite their sources?  Where did they get their information?  Alternatively, is this remedy something you found via trial-and-error, either using yourself as the trial subject (guinea pig), or through clinical experience with your patients?  Did you learn it at a seminar?  Where did they get their info?  If you can’t back it up, and you think it might still help your patient, go ahead with it, but disclose the fact that it’s experimental.  I have no problem telling a patient that what I’m about to do with them is uncharted territory for me or that I have nothing to back it up.  (I can absolutely back up most of my remedies, but occasionally, like everyone else, I find myself at a loss.)  Most patients are absolutely fine with that.  They’re more comfortable having been properly informed, and they don’t get too bent out of shape if it doesn’t yield the results we hoped for.  They’re patient and they navigate those confusing waters with me, because I’ve been honest with them.

Top-Tier Tip #4: Don’t Be Afraid To Refer

DCs are notorious for not wanting to refer patients to other practitioners, be it an MD, LMT, or other DC.  We’re afraid the patient will visit another practitioner and decide not to return to us.  This is inaccurate, and it can be devastating.  Since no doctor can specialize in everything, the patient gets cheated out of the opportunity to get relief from the knowledge of another practitioner.  We cheat ourselves too, because we look like idiots when we don’t refer when we should.  Our fear is unnecessary.  If a patient likes you, trusts you, and benefits from your service, and they visit another practitioner for either help with the same problem or relief from a separate problem, they will come back to you.  Diversified-based DC, someone might need the BEST technique or Activator protocol for a little while.  Or maybe they have an intestinal issue.  Don’t be afraid to refer to the appropriate provider!  If they like and trust you, they’ll come back for their Diversified adjustments when they’re ready/able.  And even if they don’t, you never know–maybe they’ll talk to their neighbor at a block party next year and end up referring them to your office, even if they’re no longer a patient themselves!  Don’t sweat it.

Top-Tier Tip #5: Take As Many Classes/Seminars As You Can!

The best docs (and other practitioners) never, ever stop learning.  Never figure you’ve taken a bunch of classes on a subject already and you can sit tight and rest on your laurels for a few years.  Remember what I said above–things change, and they’re changing fast.  And as time goes on, the change only happens more rapidly.  So, don’t get lazy.  Take time to stop and smell the flowers, but don’t take a nap in the garden!  My first year in practice did not leave much disposable income.  Guess what–I took classes anyway, taking advantage of the First-Year Doctor discount offered by many seminar institutions.  I used the free tech support offered by several lab and supplement companies.  I bought textbooks in my field as I could afford them (they were cheaper than some of the seminars, which I slowly saved up for and then finally attended).  Google comes with only the cost of an internet connection; use it liberally!  Double-check accuracy, of course, but it works well as a superb jumping-off point.

Top-Tier Tip #6: Ask a Lot of Questions

This tip can be divided into 2 sub-parts.  One, ask a lot of questions of your gurus, mentors, instructors, etc.  If you simply can’t go to any seminars, call up your former professors at school, or the doctor you shadowed during your internship.  Don’t be shy!  If something doesn’t make sense to you or causes confusion, speak up!

The second sub-part involves your patients.  Ask them a lot of questions, too.  People will forget to tell you things, or perhaps they never gave what seemed to be a minor symptom a second thought.  Or maybe they’re just not the forthcoming type when the subject involves body functions or pain.  Maybe they don’t want to volunteer info about their intestinal gas or low libido.  Maybe they don’t want to come off as a “complainer” about their pain.  However, most of these people will disclose this information if asked directly.  So again, speak up.

Top-Tier Tip #7: Go the Extra Mile

This can mean a lot of things, whether in terms of customer service or extra time put in behind the scenes researching a puzzling issue presented by a patient, or perhaps just putting in a few hours studying up on general information on a Saturday.  Either way, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is NOT a wide berth separating the Top-Tier docs from the average docs; often, it just involves one more step.  Take that extra step, and you can propel yourself into the top 1% of your profession.  Sometimes, it’s a tough step to take; it may involve a financial chunk, or a time-consuming project.  Other times, it’s an easy step to take–so simple that you scratch your head wondering why others don’t take it.

Top-Tier Tip #8: Hire Good Staff–and Keep Them

Ahhh yes, the thorn-in-the-side for many.  This can be a difficult one in the process, but afterward, the rewards are huge.  Basically, it goes like this: hire slow, fire fast.  Hire for personality, because the rest can be taught.  You can teach skills and computer systems and phone scripts and all that, but you can’t teach personality characteristics like genuine, nice, helpful, or motivated.  You can’t teach someone work ethic–they either have it or they don’t.  You CAN influence morale, however.  And I highly recommend doing so, and in a positive way.  A fat benefits package isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk guarantee to boost morale, either.  Good morale results when you realize you’ve hired someone competent, and kept your Hands Off, letting them do their job.  It comes from being recognized for jobs well done, from being respected as a human being and not just a machine.  It comes from being made to feel like a real part of the team and not just an outsider.  Profit-sharing, even a small percentage, may help immensely, but a simple treat to lunch on Secretaries’ Day or a warm smile and a “you handled that situation perfectly” works, too.

Top-Tier Tip #9: Follow Through With What You Say

This one is simple.  If you say you’ll do something, do it.  If you claim to do/know/offer something, be genuine.  (I.e. if you say you practice Functional Medicine and you’re really a garden-variety general practice family MD or you’re an MD/DC who only plans to focus on thyroid dysfunction or diabetes or something similar, note: that is NOT Functional Medicine.  You only practice Functional Medicine when you consider–and evaluate–ALL major aspects of body function; that’s why they call it Functional Medicine.  That’s part of a rant that will probably get its own post!)  I digress…

Anyway, if you say you offer sports chiropractic, or Functional Medicine, or nutritional counseling, or weight-loss help, or primary care, or a pediatric/pregnancy focus, or an integrative cancer approach, or what-have-you, then be prepared to deliver.  If you say you’re going to consult with a colleague about a patient’s case or look into something for them, follow through.  Be impeccable with your word; your word should mean something.

Well folks, that about does it.  Notice that I didn’t say, “offer free screenings at Walmart” or “give them free x-rays with their New Patient exam”.  That doesn’t get anyone real far.  What DOES, though, is simply being a good doctor, with your patients’ best interests in mind, and with confidence in yourself.  Now get out there and take that one more step. 🙂

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