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At ORX, The Case for Giving Disruptive Docs a Second Chance

There are ways to work with problem physicians to make them productive members of your team.

Published: October 12, 2017

FORGIVE AND FORGET? Drs. Betsy and Michael Williams say getting to the root of physicians' disruptive behavior could help determine if giving them a second chance is worth it.

Working with a disruptive doctor can be detrimental to a supportive, team-oriented work environment. But instead of bidding them good riddance, Betsy W. Williams, PhD, MPH, and Michael Williams, PhD, propose a different strategy: giving them a second chance.

"It is objectively illegal in the United States to have a work environment where people fear for their safety," says Dr. Michael Williams. At OR Excellence in Las Vegas, 98% of attendees report that they've worked with disruptive doctors. But it's the less obvious or less violent disruptive behaviors that can actually be much more difficult to address.

The husband-wife psychologist team — both of whom work at the Professional Renewal Center in Lawrence, Kan. — say a disruptive doctor doesn't necessarily have to act violently or rashly to fit the description. Doctors can also be passively disruptive through what they don't do, such as not showing up on time for surgery.

Dr. Betsy Williams suggests considering what could be causing a physician to be disruptive — over 70% of the physicians Drs. Betsy and Michael Williams have assessed had a medical condition that could have contributed to their behavior — and using the information to determine the best ways to address the issues.

"Nobody does something for no reason at all," says Dr. Michael Williams. "So is the objective of the disruptive behavior well defined?" You need to consider why physicians are acting the way they do. Once you determine that root cause of their behavior, work with your team to determine the best remediation tool to handle the situation, whether that's medical stabilization, coaching, or individual or group therapy. The best way to decide on a treatment is to consider a physician's personality mix and how his behavioral problems manifest, says Dr. Michael Williams. For example, one surgeon might have interpersonal problems and another might have system-based practice issues.

Connecting with disruptive physicians is an essential part of curtailing disruptive behavior. "Start with their personality and an understanding of who they are, because you can almost always work with it," says Dr. Michael Williams. "You want them to see the way they were going about it isn't as effective as it could be."

At the end of the day, you can't change a physician's personality, but you can give them the skills and understanding to become a more supportive, positive member of your team.

Brielle Gregory


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