Cultivating our Professionalism

by Juan C. Millan, MD

I know that there has been considerable discussion about performance standards and I would like to share my thoughts with you.

What makes someone a “professional?”  A big salary?  An advanced degree?  A title like M.D., Ph.D., Director?  Not necessarily.  I believe a “professional” is anyone who demonstrates the following characteristics: trustworthiness, reliability and humanity.  Let me explain.

When I think about what begin trustworthy means, I picture someone who:

  • keeps promises, who does what he or she says he or she is going to do
  • is honest, who admits errors and works to correct them
  • has a personal investment in the quality of his or her work
  • does what needs to be done within the scope of his or her authority without always being told
  • understands what is morally right and wrong in diverse situations and who chooses to do what is right.

When I think about what being reliable means, I picture someone who:

  • does his or her job well consistently
  • is thorough, follows through on every task
  • is careful in his or her work and therefore is accurate
  • is on the job every day as scheduled and on time
  • has mastered the skills needed in his or her job
  • continues to learn as new or better information becomes available.

When I think about what is means to demonstrate humanity, I picture someone who:

  • consistently shows respect for those around him or her.  Whether it be with patients, physicians, or co-workers, showing respect can take many forms.  It could be maintaining the confidentiality of a patient’s medical information or listening with full attention to others.
  • shows compassion for others’ being sensitive to their needs and forgiving of their shortcomings.

Measures or standards like these can help us determine the level of professionalism at which we are currently operating.  We establish standards, like the lab performance standards, in order to ensure a uniform measurement of performance.  The standard indicates how we think we should be operating.  Performance standards serve to guide us and keep us on the path to quality.  They are tools for our use.

Does establishing performance standards and measuring ourselves by them mean we should expect ourselves to always perform every aspect of our jobs perfectly?  No, I believe we come to our jobs with a sense of confidence in our ability to do the tasks we are asked to do.  Our motivation may vary day to day based on our individual experiences...our health, our relationships at home and at work, our sense of challenge in the workplace...but our professionalism must be constant.  Our professionalism can be our underlying strength, the resource that carries us through the “seems I can do no wrong days” and more importantly, through “will this day never end” days.

Technical skills can be obtained through education and practice; professionalism must be cultivated.  We must cultivate ourselves by uprooting and weeding our negative or limiting beliefs.  We must believe in ourselves and our ability to be trustworthy, reliable and humane.

Dr. Juan Millan is the Corporate Clinical Director for Laboratory Services for Legacy Health Services.  He is also the MLT Program Medical Director.  He wrote this article for the staff at Legacy Laboratory Services.