What makes a great medical provider?

What makes an excellent medical care provider? Whatever your title – MD, DO, NP, PA, RN, the list goes on – we should all ask ourselves this question. Not only does this help us clarify what we personally think good medicine looks like, but it also helps us provide better patient care.

I think most medical providers would agree that competence is an essential skill. Without skill, or the ability to make the correct diagnosis, our patients are out of luck. They will not get the treatment they need.

Beyond skill, however, what sets someone apart from the crowd? I found a few traits that I think are important, but I’d love to hear from others in the comments what they think makes a great provider.

Empathy

Showing that we understand and share our patients’ emotions is a critical skill for medical providers.

When I was 18, I saw an otolaryngologist during hearing loss and tinnitus. After the audiologist administered the hearing test, she explained to me that the doctor would be coming to see me soon. When he arrived, I was eager to talk to him and find out more about my condition.

The meeting did not go as I had imagined. I had imagined a friendly doctor going over my results, explaining what they meant and what options I had.

When he entered the room—and I’m not kidding—he didn’t take his hand off the doorknob! He stood in the doorway, explaining to me that I was not a candidate for hearing aids at the time and there was virtually nothing he could do for me. With that, he left the room.

All of this information was correct. But as a patient, I would have appreciated him to sit down and explain this information and answer my questions. Now, I know we’re all busy, but I’ve never found myself so busy that I couldn’t sit down with the patient for a few minutes to explain my thought process and answer their questions.

Every person wants to feel important, but patients in particular need knowing that we care about their condition, no matter how big or small it seems to us.

Request

I have a friend who recently revealed that he has been taking a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) for 8 years. It was prescribed to him when he was suffering from intense anxiety during a difficult time in his life. He revealed that the SSRI was crucial in helping him during this time, but often wonders if he still needs it.

I asked if he had spoken with his clinician about drug withdrawal. He explained that he didn’t, but the provider usually asks during his annual wellness visit, “How are the SSRIs?”

He always responds by saying that everything is fine.

Although I could be wrong, I guess this supplier is asking my friend if he thinks he still needs the medicine. Some people take SSRIs for a short time, while others may take them for many years. Each patient is different and should be treated as such. In this scenario, it would be helpful for the provider to learn more about the patient’s thoughts regarding the medication to make an informed decision together.

Good communication

I have had the privilege throughout my career to work with phenomenal vendors who excel in communication. One of my assistants was so good at explaining what was going on in a language that everyone could understand that I would love to work with her on that basis alone!

One day during the rounds, a parent didn’t understand why we were reducing antibiotics for his daughter’s bacterial infection. The patient was on broad-spectrum antibiotics, but once culture returned we were able to reduce coverage.

The parent thought we were removing antibiotics even though her daughter was still very ill. My assistant sat down with this parent, explaining the differences between antibiotics, their coverage, and even some differences in bacteria – all in easy to understand terms.

At the end of the conversation, the parent was grateful for the time spent and learned a lot about her daughter’s condition. Communication like this is what I look for every day when talking with patients and parents.

The truth is, many traits come together to make an excellent medical care provider, and we can learn from both good and bad examples. Other essential traits that come to mind are honesty, integrity and teamwork.

Now it’s your turn; let me know in the comments what you think makes a great medical care provider. Do you have any stories that come to mind that demonstrate “good” or “bad” medicine?

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About Amber Mashuta, MS, CPNP

Amber Mashuta is a Board Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with extensive experience in acute care settings. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was a frontline provider in New York City, where she treated pediatric and adult patients. After leaving New York, she hiked 700 miles on the Appalachian Trail from New York to Maine. She is also an avid writer and a chess player.