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by Jacqueline Thompson
When you think of a military commander, you likely picture someone in a uniform ready to take action. When you think of a physician, you might envision someone wearing a white lab jacket--completely calm.
Outwardly, the two roles seem to be opposites of one another, but you might be surprised to discover that military and medical leaders have many skills and values in common. During my deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps (ARMC), I learned several important lessons that civilian medical leaders can apply within their hospital or practice.
1. Team is key: A cohesive team is pertinent in a hospital and military setting. Whether in a hospital or combat zone, teams must be ready for the worst scenario, and the staff needs training, knowledge and cohesion during difficult situations so they can work together.
Regardless of hierarchy or chain of command, an efficient and tactful team demands the highest level of support from every team member, including administrators. Lower-level personnel cannot just be faces to those at the top. Leaders must understand the dynamics of the people in lower ranks to provide proper supervision, motivation and support.
2. Know your role: Hospitals can be chaotic. Patients flood in, and stress levels are high. A combat zone is no different. With never-ending rushes of stress and chaos, the only way to truly counter the turmoil is through flawless order. Everyone must know his or her role and each other's strengths and weaknesses, ensuring every team member knows who is best utilized where.
This type of reflexive knowledge is accomplished through repetition; a hospital staff or military unit must rehearse difficult situations until everyone moves as one. If even only one person isn't fulfilling his duties, it can throw off the entire production. In both combat and a hospital, this instinctual knowledge can ultimately save a life.
3. No egos allowed: There will always be set ranks in hospital and military settings. It makes sense--those who have worked hard for a long time move up in their field. However, that doesn't call for a show of egos. No matter a person's rank or title, everyone must understand ego and leadership are two very different things.
An attitude of superiority or ego will only harm team morale, productivity and patient opinion. Even the most difficult medical decisions often must be made quickly, and big egos only get in the way. Leaders should set a positive example to their team by showing a humble attitude and an open mind when creating a plan for recovery.
4. Act as one: Working under a unified mindset makes an organization's staff feel invested in the overall vision of the hospital. If an entire practice works as one--nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and doctors--goals are achieved at a much quicker rate. In the same way, each military brigade must move, work and fight as one. Apply this practice to any medical setting, and you'll change both patients' lives and your coworkers' attitudes.
Medical fieldwork and deployment may seem like two different worlds, but the same factors make each field function well: teamwork, shared goals, clearly defined roles and a humble desire to work selflessly for others. Through my commitment with the ARMC, I learned that stepping out of the typical medical environment can help you strengthen your skills and reinforce values that make a physician great.
Jacqueline Thompson, M.D., is a civil service OB/GYN at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, N.C.
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