Ways to Say “No” in the Medical Profession

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Saying no is one of the most difficult things to do as a doctor. And how can you, especially when a patient’s life is on the line? There will be times when it seems like you have no choice but to admit another person for consultation at the clinic near the end of your shift. There may be other times, especially during the middle of a grueling day, where you have to participate in one more surgery to save someone who’s critically injured.

But what happens once these problems blow over? Let’s say you’ve managed to patch up the patient on the operating table and you’ve finished your clinic shift. It can be difficult not to become overwhelmed with the feeling of being drained after a long day. What happens to you once you’ve done your work?

This feeling of fatigue is one of the most common signs of physician burnout, which makes learning how to refuse a crucial task more difficult. It’s better to approach a medical case when you’re focused rather than exhausted and irritable. With that said, let’s take a look at some ways you can say “no” like a medical professional.

Delegate your tasks

Even the most seasoned doctor can only take a limited number of cases. Some might even have administrative duties too, which is why you may have to delegate tasks to other staff members. If you’re overloaded with tasks for the day, you might want to say something along the lines of “I’m already loaded for the day, but this doctor might be more qualified to help your case.”

This is a form of refusal that also gives an alternative solution. Handing a particular case to someone else implies that you are still willing to help them indirectly instead of giving an outright refusal.

Block off calls at the clinic


Clinic appointments are situations when you need to be completely focused. This is because you need to listen to the client in order to properly diagnose him or her. It’s true that you have an obligation to treat patients, but this needs to be tackled one at a time.

But if other people are constantly emailing and calling you, it’s advisable to de-clutter your communication lines. In this case, a good option is to leave a voicemail prompt explaining why you can’t take the call. If you want to make the refusal firm, but still leave more options, your voicemail message can also offer the caller to talk to your assistant if you have one.

Schedule after-work dates in advance

Once you’ve finished your shift, your free time needs to be firmly in your hands. Nothing’s more frustrating than someone at the office calling and asking you to go back to the hospital. This can burn you out, especially when it’s supposed to be your day off. In this case, it’s important to schedule your important off-duty days in advance and coordinate with your HR department.

You have to firmly say that you cannot be interrupted during those times because you need your rest. But at the same time, it can be a good gesture to your superiors to notify your colleagues that you’ll be out. This gives them the chance to have an available physician who can fill in for you while you’re gone. And in time, you can also do the same when they need to schedule their own leaves.

While a proper work-life balance can be hard to achieve in this profession, setting your boundaries is the first step in the right direction. Taking these much needed breaks can make it easier to put up a professional and empathic attitude expected of medical professionals. It’s a much better alternative than having to approach a medical case when you’re exhausted and possibly end up misdiagnosing a patient.

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Jeremy Kaplan

A 50-something year old lifestyle, career, and education blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. Years of experience in the office setting working with others and still loving it year-after-year.

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