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I’ll never forget my first day of practice. I was starting at a commercial chain where I would be giving the full-time optometrist Wednesdays off, and it was totally booked. I never completed an eye exam in less than one hour, and had no idea how I was going to keep up and remain “on time.” When I arrived to my workplace that day, the staff was merely an afterthought. I had more important things to worry about like seeing patients without a staff doctor!
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The day turned out well and the schedule ran rather smoothly. As I was preparing to leave, I reflected on how I’d managed to see 18 complete exams, and I realized that it never could have happened without the staff’s helping hands.  I took the time to personally introduce myself to each and every one staff member, and then I thanked them for their hard work. As I left the workplace that day, I got the distinct impression that the staff was not accustomed to hearing “thank you” from the optometrist.

A Successful Combination
As I continued to work at this location, the staff would come to me with questions to clarify pre-testing procedures along with a variety of other questions relating to their jobs. I was always willing to answer their questions, but I discreetly wondered why they would always ask me rather than the full-time optometrist. Even though the full-time O.D. would complain to me about the patients and the staff, I never had the “issues” that he did with patients or with staff. Staff members were always eager to learn and were very quick to follow my recommendations for patient care.
When I look back at my time served at that commercial location, I have a much better understanding of why I was so successful there. My schedule was always busier than his, I was more productive than him, and patients were requesting to see me, even if that meant waiting a week or more. Unfortunately, this O.D. couldn’t see “the forest for the trees” enough to realize that that my success at that location was a direct result of the respect that I showed the staff.

The Impact of Two Words
It wasn’t until several months later when one of the employees was leaving secondary to relocating that I realized the impact of “thank you” from the staff’s perspective. She came to me as her shift was ending and said, “Dr. Kerksick, I have really enjoyed working with you. You are the first doctor that ever made me feel respected, needed, valued and appreciated. Thank you.” It was then that I realized the power of that simple phrase, “thank you.” I’ve found through my experience of working with a variety of staff ranging in all ages that the respect of the doctor is earned most easily by staff when they are respected in return. After all, respect is a two-way street.

Starting Strategies

Every day before leaving your workplace, reflect back on your staff and try to find one thing that they did particularly well and compliment them each personally. When staff hear your positive praises regularly, they feel more comfortable, confident and respected. In return, staff will always be more receptive to your constructive criticism when needed if they’re receiving positive reinforcement from you about what they’re doing well. - Kelly Kerksick, OD

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