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Team players

Posted by Ishani Ganguli  January 6, 2012 07:00 AM

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Teamwork. It is the stuff of motivational posters (whether ironically or in earnest) and the long-leaked secret of successful industries. Health care has been relatively slow to catch on, but at forward-thinking medical practices like the primary care clinic where I work, teamwork has become a central tenet of how care is delivered. Our diversely trained staff members start the day with a team huddle to discuss the patients we’ll see and divvy up our work according to our unique skill sets. 

We know that effective multidisciplinary teams can provide safer, higher quality, and more efficient health care. By doctors sharing tasks with non-MD health care providers, we just may be able to put a dent in our presumed doctor shortage. But we are up against a long history of tensions between disciplines and we continue to face disagreements over who should be called what and how much various providers should be allowed to do.

Our training doesn’t help much. In medical school, we spend little time getting to know our colleagues in other professions, even though this is critical to working together effectively. 

In the spirit of addressing this, I set out to learn more about each of the providers at my clinic, the Ambulatory Practice of the Future (APF). I chatted with our nurse practitioner, registered nurse, medical assistants, and health coach. What motivated them to pursue their professions? What do they see as their unique roles in the team? What do they love about their jobs and what are their frustrations?

In the process, I discovered there was plenty I did not know about the colleagues I work with nearly every week. A few themes emerged: Formal training is only one small part of what dictates a role so we can and should be creative and dynamic in the way we ask various members to work (legal obligations allowing). The deeply engrained medical hierarchy that puts doctors at the top remains difficult to shake, even at a place like APF. And finally, clear communication and expectations are critical to helping each of us perform at our best. 

Over the coming weeks, I’ll post a series of entries on each of the professions at APF. Our cohort by no means encompasses the full range of medical professionals. For example, our team doesn’t include a pharmacist, a case manager, or a physician assistant*. Regardless, my hope is that these posts will shed some light on the diverse group of health care providers that are increasingly present and important to all of us, in sickness and in health.

*In the original post, this professional role was named "physician's assistant" in error.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Ishani Ganguli, MD, is a journalist and a second-year resident physician in internal medicine/primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital. She studied biochemistry and Spanish at Harvard College and received her More »

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