I was recently asked to discuss professionalism to a group of technician trainees. When asked what they felt it meant, I found their list was less inclusive than mine. In the spirit of consistency among technicians everywhere, I am writing this article in the hopes you will share it with your staff.
Whether we are new to the field, or have been involved in ophthalmic patient care for more years than we like to admit, we all come to work daily to do a good job. We think of our patients as our customers, but in actuality the list of people with high expectations from us is much longer. Also included in our customer list are our physicians, supervisors, co-workers in and out of the clinic.
When I look around various clinic settings, the first thing I notice is the appearance of the staff. Whether they wear street clothes or uniforms, I notice if the garments are clean and pressed or stained and wrinkled. Although scrubs and shirts may be sold as permanent press garments, if they remain in the dryer too long after the cycle has ended, they look as creased as they were before they were washed. Some of these cotton pants are made of thin cotton and show the details of the undergarments; imagine what your patients are thinking. Name tags belong visible, not hidden on a shirt hem or waistband.
Personal hygiene is right up there with appearance. We work in healthcare; therefore it is expected we are aware of the close proximity we have to our patients. After all, we are aware of their flaws; they too are made cognizant of ours. This includes hair that is clean and brushed; makeup should be kept to a minimum so mascara and shadow are not left on the eyepieces of the instruments. We are often within inches of our patients so our breath must be fresh, especially following a lunch that included onions or garlic.
Beverages and food must remain outside the clinical areas. Too often drinks are hidden in the corners of exam rooms, in the hope that no one will notice. However, if OSHA were to inspect, they would notice this infraction immediately. Gum need not be chewed during patient hours; our patients are often hard of hearing and this will only muffle your voice even more.
I have seen techs holding patients’ eyelids with nails so long they curl. Fingernails should be kept to a minimum; the under nails must be maintained clean since this has the potential to contact the eye and spread disease.
Hands should be washed (or dry soap applied) and instruments (occluders, phoropters, tonometer tips) should be wiped down in advance of their use, in front of the patient. Too many times, I have observed this done at the conclusion of the work up. The amount of time it takes is the same whether it is before or after use. Therefore, provide your patient with the knowledge that you care about infection control rather than leave him or her wondering if the instruments they use are clean.
The work up room should look as good for the 3:00 PM patient as it did for the first patient of the morning. The surfaces in the exam rooms should have a minimum of clutter. It does not take any longer to replace test items in the drawer than it does to leave it out. Bottles must be recapped after every use; if they fell to the floor uncapped or came in contact with a patient’s eye, they must be discarded. This is a small price to pay to control the spread of disease. What about the small bits of trash that miss the bucket? These should be discarded properly, not left on the floor for the cleaners who do their work after the office has closed.
Work ethic is often included in professionalism discussions. Do you arrive and return from your lunch breaks at the appointed time, or with a few minutes to spare? Patients manage to arrive early; accommodating them within minutes of their appointment times will get your sessions off to a good beginning. Doing so provides good customer service to your doctors as well as to your patients. Contrary to common belief, bringing them back early does not mean they will expect to be seen early at every visit.
Some technicians claim they work up more patients than their co-workers. You know as well as your peers if you take the next patient due to be worked up or if you find something to do when a comprehensive exam is next to arrive. The true professional accepts the next patient with grace and without complaint.
How do you spend your time when the doctor is out of the office? If you take pride in the office you are probably someone who is offering to help your coworkers. Do you take initiative to clean and stock rooms, replenishing patient education materials as necessary? Do you work with your superiors and senior staff to learn new skills? If you work for a specific group of doctors, do you ask to be placed with a different team?
Many of us believe that the key to providing professional care to our patients is to spend time making them feel welcome and cared for. In actuality, the true ophthalmic professional accomplishes the expected care and concern in a minimum of time, without compromising quality of care. He or she is aware of the number of patients yet to arrive and anticipates the ophthalmologist’s needs, correctly answering the patient’s questions prior to the actual exam.